« ZurückWeiter »
HAVING the honor of a seat in the Legislature of this country, and holding an opinion on the important question now under discussion, from which many respectable and virtuous persons, and no small portion of my countrymen, dissent, I feel myself to be warranted, (I will not say obliged,) to dis close the foundations of the judgment, which I have formed.
In addressing myself to the people, I appeal not to their authority. The necessity for their sanction to any act of their Legislature, I protest against, as a principle subversive of our mixed government; and introductive of absolute democracy in its room. But that popular approbation of a public measure, which is not requisite towards giving it validity, may yet be desirable towards giving it effect:-towards promoting general tranquillity; towards multiplying and maturing the benefits of the law; towards conciliating that people, whose sentiments it is the free spirit of the British system to respect; and giving to the subjects' acquiescence in the decrees of their Legislature, a more cordial and zealous character, than that of mere duty, and reluctant obedience.
My opinions on the momentous subject now before us, are shortly these that Union on fair terms would be beneficial to this country; and that such conditions we are likely to obtain. To justify these opinions, will be the object of the following pages.
In considering this question, let me be permitted to begin by laying preliminary grounds.
The British Islands constitute one empire. Their imperial connexion is not the result of a mere coincidence of crowns on the same head; but the crowns (if I may so express it) are constitutionally blended. His Majesty's
being Monarch of Great Britain is the indispensable requisite, and of itself adequately efficient cause, of his being King of Ireland. Ipso facto of his being sovereign of our sister country, he is ours; and practically to deny this imperial union of the islands, would be treason against the principles of the Irish constitution.
Now, let us suppose the rest of our establishment to be as yet unformed; and that, applying to some modern Solon, we inquired how many Legislatures this one empire should contain. Is it likely that he would recommend more than one? Would the lawgiver distract one dominion with two wills? Might he not even suppose you blundered, in talking of two Legislatures in the same empire?-and pronounce of such a state, as Stephano did of Caliban, that it was "a most delicate monster, with two voices ?"
If such must, a priori, be the opinion of a wise man, I may infer that, so far as union allots one Legislature to a single empire, it is a rational and wholesome measure:-that in securing that empire from the possible collision of dissentient parliaments, union is the corrective of a dangerous anomaly.
The discussion might be pushed farther, between the lawgiver and the inquirer. The former might predict, that a state thus constituted, would find in the duplicity of its Legislature, the sources of present weakness, and seeds of future severance. That a difference of system between the Legislatives, must paralyse the general force of the empire; and that by the enemies of the connexion, this parliamentary distinctness might be converted into means of accomplishing a separation.
If the maxims be warranted, which I have been thus attributing to our supposed lawgiver, the inference seems to be--that the tendency of union, in consolidating the Legislatures, will be to fortify the British Empire; and eradicate those seeds of separation which it contains:-and this tendency will, on the one hand, raise an opponent to the measure, in every foe to British greatness and connexion; and, on the contrary, will recommend it to the favor of all those, who think the connexion salutary, and wish it to be maintained; all who, admitting as a maxim, that Ireland must stand and fall with England, feel interested at all times to promote the security of the empire; and especially when the situation of Europe, and the World,when the power, the success, and the hostility of France, render it necessary that the British Empire should concentrate all its strength; unless we be prepared to surrender all its honors.
If it were replied to our Sage, that British influence would be found an antidote to the mischiefs which he had suggested: and prevent Legislative dissensions from weakening the energies of the empire,-or Irish independence from marring the councils or interests of Britain, he might, in answer, decline admitting an hypothesis, which derogated from the practical supremacy of the Irish Legislature; or, admitting it, might show that this was no longer the case of two Legislatures in one empire;-but the
case of a paramount British, and subordinate Irish Parliament. That therefore, whether the islands should have each a distinct parliament, could no longer involve a question for Irish pride; inasmuch as it would not be more degrading to this country to have its Legislature one with, than subject to that of Britain. That where there existed a subjection in fact, this might be rendered but the more pernicious, by a veil of nominal independence; since authority is softened by being ascertained, and exposed to view; and the power is sure to be exorbitant, which, whispering its mandates, contrives to keep itself concealed.—That thus to constitute two Legislatures, both nominally supreme, and then obviate the mischiefs of such an organization, by rendering one of them practically subservient, would be to create a fault, in order to correct it; and to bring matters clumsily, incompletely, and corruptly round, to that point,-in which the original establishment of one parliament might have placed them. That instead of permitting imperial energy to flow directly from a simple primitive arrangement, this might be circuitously and imperfectly to accomplish the same objects,-by a system pernicious to morals, destructive of public spirit, and which must sow the seeds of popular disaffection. For he might conclude, that the nominal supremacy of one Legislature could not be converted to a practical dependence, but by the corrupt connivance of its members; and that if such profligacy existed on their parts, it would either spread a contagion, fatal to liberty and public virtue; or rob the parliament of confidence, the constitution of respect, and the kingdom of prosperity and peace. Thus he might affirm, that quacumque via data, a coalition of all the imperial Legislative powers would be desirable: that it would be preferable to distinct and really independent parliaments; and, still more to be preferred to Legislatures, under whose seeming independence, there lurked the practical subserviency
Let us now suppose this lawgiver to have entered on his plan: to have organized the imperial Legislature, and assigned to Ireland what he conceived to be its due proportion of representation. In this stage of the arrangement, I seem to hear an Irishman object, that this country had not an adequate share in the imperial councils. Our Solon would admit the justice of such a complaint; but would require to be shewn that it was founded in fact; and if my countryman, by way of substantiating his charge, should suggest that British representation out-weighed the Irish in point of numbers, it seems likely that he would expose himself to this answer: "Your objection is absurd: you are setting in opposition to each other, parts which are not politically opposed: the quantity of Irish representation is commensurate to Irish power, resources, and contribution: the British exceeds it in point of numbers; because in Britain there is more contribution to represent: for the same reason, the representation of England exceeds that of Scotland, Wales or Yorkshire;-and the representation of three Irish provinces out-weighs that of the fourth. If the representatives of the empire do their duty, each will prefer the welfare "the NO. XII. VOL. VI.
whole, to the advantage of any part; and thus your fears, from the paucity of Irish members, rest on a merely imaginary clashing of interests in the state. If admitted, your objection would prove too much, and the people of Yorkshire might make it, as reasonably as you. It would go to crumble the empire into its primeval parts; and renew the heptarchy, or the system of baronial tyrannies. It would assert that the lesser part was entitled to equal influence with the greater. But as we could not assent to so monstrous a position, it would, if it proved any thing, demonstrate the utility of that separation from Great Britain, which every friend to Ireland ought to deprecate."
Thus those islands forming but one empire, if this were res integra, it would be desirable that they should have but a single Legislature. Such an organization would tend to rivet their connexion; and fortify an empire which is now formidably assailed; and in all whose dangers Ireland must partake. As to Imperial Representation, a share, proportioned to its consequence and its burthens, would be all that this country should or need require; for this would secure us a full share in the common blessings of the constitution. No quantity of Irish Representation could do more; and therefore if the share conceded were adequate to accomplish this, then to require a greater portion would be absurd.-These were the preliminary grounds which I had to lay.
But the present, it will be said, is not res integra: the imperial establishments are already formed; and Ireland is possessed of a legislature, independent and distinct. True; and therefore all that I have proved is this; that by a just Union, Ireland would exchange its separate Legislature, for such a share in the imperial councils, as ensuring us the full benefits of the British Constitution, would thus bestow all, which we could originally have demanded.
The exchange, which confers on Ireland as much imperial weight as she could ever have had a right to claim, or consistently with the welfare of the empire could possess, cannot be a very inequitable barter.
The change, which by communicating to Ireland all the benefits of the British Constitution, must, at the same time, diffuse happiness and freedom amongst her people, cannot be a very destructive alteration. What more could independence have procured our country?
But we sacrifice a portion of our national splendor. I admit it; and make the sacrifice with regret. I almost rejoice at that repugnance, with which at first this measure is received; for I consider national honor as some security for national liberty, and virtue. But looking to our country, torn with conflicts, and stained with blood; turning our eyes to the traitors and separatists who swarm amongst us; contemplating the state of Europe, and the world; let us then inquire, whether it be not expedient to sacrifice some pride, to the security of that connexion with Great Britain, which at this time, is at once peculiarly necessary and precarious: whether at a moment like the present, we should not fortify that empire, of which we make a part; whose destruction is attempted, and whose ruin must be ours. And, after
all, to what situation shall we be reduced?-to one which will secure to us the British Constitution; with all those inestimable benefits which it involves.
I have started a serious objection to that theory, which assigns two legislatures to one empire; and suggested that such a system appears calculated to estrange those portions of the empire, which are thus legislatively distinguished.
But I admit that the independence of Ireland (leaving to others to pronounce whether or not this has been practical,) ought not to be sacrificed to the speculations of a theorist.
Let us therefore inquire, whether those mischiefs, of a double legislature which were probable in theory, have arisen in fact.
About eleven years ago, his Majesty was afflicted with a temporary illness, and during his indisposition; it became necessary to commit the executive to other hands.
Our Legislature were then, as they are now, divided. The British Parliament was proceeding to form a Regency, invested with certain limited powers. What did our Lords and Commons do?-Without waiting for any appointment on the part of Britain, they nominated a Regent for Ireland; to whom they intrusted a degree of authority superior to that which the British Regency, if completed, would have possessed.
Let us consider the tendency of this consequence of two legislatures for one empire: this practical assertion of Irish Legislative Independence.
It produced two independent executives for one empire. It hazarded intrusting the executive to different hands: and set different limits, in each island, to its power.
Did this act, the effect of our legislative independence, tend to dismember the British empire?—I shall leave to the sober and impartial reader to answer this question for himself; and to collect the train of inferences, which his answer will supply.
The Sovereign of Great Britain is therefore King of Ireland. Trace this rule to its principle, and what will follow?-That the Regent of Great Britain should govern Ireland; and the authority of the Executive have the same bounds in either country.
Then what was the effect of our Independence in 1788?-If my reason did not bend before the authority of even two branches of the Legislature, I should say it was, in spirit, the violation of a maxim of the Constitution. Here we seem to have descended from the regions of theory, to the flat realities of practice.
It is no answer, to tell me that the recurrence of the evil may be prevented; and that our Parliament has nothing to do, but enact the principle which I have stated.'
"Quid te exempta juvat spinis de pluribus una?
i The Right Hon. James Fitzgerald has given notice of his intention to introduce a bill into Parliament, for this purpose.