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A Philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland [...] (Author: Thomas Campbell)

Letter 34


I have now before me a book, intitled, The Case of Ireland, being bound by acts of parliament made in England, stated; written by Mr. Molyneux, who speaking of Mr. Locke's Treatise on Government, calls the author his excellent friend. It was natural to expect, that an intimacy should have subsisted between such congenial cotemporaries.

The design of this book is to shew, that Ireland is of right free as England, and may not therefore be bound by English acts of parliament. In order to demonstrate these propositions, the writer sets out with shewing, that Ireland cannot be called a conquered country, even in the sense that England is said to be so, by the Conqueror: for William obtained England by a bloody fight at Hastings, whereas Henry received not the least opposition in Ireland. Henry came over and made large concessions of she same laws and liberties enjoyed by the


people of England, and the Irish came in peaceably, and accepted the proffered terms.

After inquiring what title conquest gives, the author proves, from the laws of nature and of nations, that an unjust conquest can give no title at all; and that even a just one can give no right over the property or posterity, but only over the liberties and lives, of actual opposers; consequently, that it can give none over those who did not concur in the opposition, and still less, if possible, over those who assisted in the conquest.

He next maintains, that, even granting it had been conquered, and justly too, Ireland recovered its independence under John, whom Henry created King of Ireland; which was thereby set apart from England and continued a distinct kingdom, until England descended to John, a space of about twenty-two years; during which divers grants and charters to his Irish subjects were made, and are still in being. ‘Volumus, quod, in signum fidelitatis vestrae tam praeclarae, tam insignis, libertatibus, regno nostro Anglicae a patre nostro & nobis concessis, de gratia nostra & dono, in regno Hiberniae gaudeatis, vos et vestri haeredes in perpetuum.’


This grant was confirmed by Henry III. in the Irish Magna Charta. And from that time England and Ireland have had separate jurisdictions, and remained independent kingdoms, under one head, without any subordination of the one to the other.

In the reign of Henry IV. it was enacted in the Irish parliament, that no statutes made in England should be in force in Ireland before they were allowed and published in the parliament of this kingdom. In the succeeding reigns several English statutes were thus authorized in Ireland; till at length, in the reign of Henry VII. all the English statutes were grafted upon the Irish stock.

He endeavours to answer objections to the claims since made of English acts binding Ireland, where Ireland is particularly named. He shews, that when those acts were made, Ireland was in such confusion that she could not assemble parliaments of her own, but sent her representatives to England; and that the very same thing was done even so late as Cromwell's usurpation. As to the law passed in England, during Charles the First's tyranny, for levying


money in Ireland, that, he says, was made of no force by the acts of settlement and explanation, passed here in the reign of Charles II.

From these premises he infers, that so far are we from finding precedents antecedent to the restoration, for England's parliament binding Ireland, that there is prescription for the parliament of Ireland repealing an act passed in England, relative to the affairs of Ireland. But, however speciously this writer may argue for the independence of his country de jure, it is to all intents and purposes bound de facto by English acts. The navigation ad expressly names and binds Ireland; for it compels all ships belonging thereto, importing goods from our plantations, to touch first at England. The acts too, prohibiting the exportation of wool, raw or manufactured, to any country except England, are firmly binding; by the first, it is made highly penal, by the last, felony of death.

After all this, would you not be amazed to hear a people thus shackled, talk of their liberties, their privileges, and their constitution? Yet this language is held here pretty


generally. Talk to an Irishman of a union with England, and he almost takes fire, what! — bereave us of our parliament, and then onerate us with taxes!

I once thought that the Irish constitution was formed upon the English model, and that it consisted simply of king, lords, and commons; but if it were originally so framed, it is now totally altered, for at present it consists of five branches at least. By an act managed by a Lord Deputy, called Poining, in the reign of Henry VII. it was provided, that no bill should appear before either house of parliament, which had not been approved of in England. If a member wishes for an act, he brings in what he calls the heads of a bill,— which heads, if approved of in his house, must next undergo the scrutiny of the Irish Privy Council where all matters suspected of being offensive to government are generally strangled in their birth. For the members of this council are put in, and turned out, at the royal discretion. But if the matter of the bill passes this board, it must next suffer a revision in England, from whence it is transmitted, if approved; or never more heard


of, if disliked. The heads returned from England, are again brought into the house where they originated, under the form and name of a bill, which house,— if unaltered, — it passes, and so on to the other two members of the legislature, as with us.

The English and Irish constitutions are, you may observe, fundamentally different. The Privy Council of England is the most potent branch; next to that the Privy Council of Ireland; lords and commons are mere ostensible forms, except to grant money. For though bills apparently take their rise, in one or other of their houses, they all, virtually, originate in the Crown;—the other branches have only negatives.

But if we enter a little farther into this matter, we shall find, that the legislature of Ireland may be said to consist of six parts; for the King and council refer the heads of each bill to the examination of two men, the attorney, and solicitor-general; and if they report them to be prejudicial to the trade, or derogatory to the dignity of England, they are either altered or detained.

When the crown lawyers have made such alterations in the deliberations of this nation


as they think fit, then they are returned under the great seal, and must be either passed, or rejected, in the very form in which they now stand.

Such is the constitution of Ireland, about which her patriots make such a pother! Yet to see the galleries agitated, as they are, by the harangues in the House of Commons, is almost incredible. You would think from their anxiety, that national salvation depended on the fate of a question; upon which, let it go as it may, there are so many other checks and controuls, that it seems astonishing how people can be thus duped every other year.

If this kingdom ever had a free legislature, it has been long lost, and therefore it is full time to give it a new one; for to restore it to its first principles, is morally impossible, and if it were possible, it is not desirable. The Irish should be glad to accept, and the English ready to impart to them, the benefits of our equal constitution. I should not take up this imperative style, if all our writers upon the subject, for the last half century, had not pressed home the same matter in the strongest terms.


As the grand remedy for the decline of foreign trade, Sir Matthew Decker proposes ‘to unite Ireland, and to put all the subjects of these three kingdoms on the same footing in trade.’ Sir Josiah Child recommends the same measure. Dr. Campbell says, that the main drift of his Political Survey was, to open men's eyes on the ‘importance of uniting in the firmest, closest, and most effectual manner, all the parts of the British territories, as being at once the only natural and certain means of establishing the grandeur, procuring the safety, and fixing the permanency of the British Empire; a triple alliance, or rather strict union between England, Scotland, and Ireland, being the only league necessary to make his Britannic Majesty the most potent monarch of Europe.’

This, one would think, is pretty strong language; and yet, when I once conversed with him on this subject, he told me he had only given hints, being unwilling to speak out, considering the prejudices on both sides the water. Dean Tucker speaks the same language, and every where insists upon the advantages that would accrue


from this measure. Sir William Petty saw it in its true light, at a very early period, and points out, as ‘the first impediment to England's greatness, that the territories thereto belonging are divided into so many kingdoms, and several governments, viz. there be the three legislative powers in England, Scotland, and Ireland, the which instead of uniting together, do often cross upon one another's trades, not only as if they were foreigners to each other, but sometimes as enemies.’

If authorities were necessary, I could produce many more to the same purpose but authorities may be silent, where reason speaks so loud. From the union of England and Scotland, we have had the experience of consequences mutually happy in every respect. Can we doubt of still greater advantages from annexing Ireland to the other two? Since the soil, climate, and extent of Ireland are so superior to those of Scotland. Far from being an objection, the insular form of Ireland is much in its favour, by giving it a more extensive coast, 800 miles in circumference. It is worthy observation, that this kingdom, though


consisting of near 2000 square miles, is not, one place with another, above twenty-four miles from the sea; and when the canals, now making, are finished, three or four counties only of the whole will be without an inland navigation. As well might we suppose that England, if subdivided as under the Saxon Heptarchy, would not lose her consequence among the States of Europe, as that she would not become more wealthy, vigorous, and flourishing, by having Ireland joined with her under the same legislature. Vis unita fortior.

If we could suppose another Yorkshire, or Lancashire, or both, to be superadded to England,— or that the channel were converted into dry land, and Ireland become part and parcel of England, will any body be so sceptical to doubt, whether such an accession of territory would augment the influence of the British crown? Are our European dominions of such an unwieldy bulk, that we never stand in need of men to recruit our fleets and our armies? Are not numbers of people, the riches, the bulwark of a state? It would only argue ignorance


of the fact, to object that Ireland could not be so well improved, nor consequently as populous as Yorkshire, Lancashire, or any other of our shires. The most northerly counties of Ireland are asserted to be as populous as the best parts of England; yet they are the worst lands in the kingdom, and within a century were the most thinly inhabited.

There was a time when it was the language of our hot-headed politicians,— happy would it be for England, if Ireland were sunk in the bottom of the sea! Even so late as the usurpation of Cromwell, it was proposed by the author of Oceana, ‘to exterminate the natives, and repeople with Jews; for that the English planted there, whether from the faults of the soil, or vices of the air, had always degenerated.’ But a short interval has reprobated the principles of that splenetic republican. It is now pretty well understood that Ireland is one of the brightest jewels in our imperial diadem. And to recur to physical causes, for political effects, is among the reveries of a crazy brain. Sir William Petty, Harrington's contemporary, who, having


spent much of his time upon the spot, Is certainly a far better authority, saw this matter in another light: discoursing of the natives, he writes thus: ‘For their shape, stature, and complexion, I see nothing in them inferior to any other people: their laziness seems to proceed rather from want of employment, and encouragement to work, than from the constitution of their bodies; for what need they to work, who can content themselves with potatoes, whereof the labour of one man can feed forty?And why should they breed more cattle, since it is penal to export them to England? Why should they raise commodities, since there are not merchants sufficiently stocked to take them? And how should merchants have stock, since trade is prohibited, and fettered by the statutes of England?’40

Though Ireland traces her antiquity up to Japhet, she is not, at this day, four-score years old in the line of improvement. Till the reign of James I. our laws never had the shadow of obedience, out of what was called the English pale. The rebellion of 1641 soon followed, and the war of


1688 closed the scene of blood. Before the revolution there was no permanent tenure of peace, and to repair the necessary devastations of almost continual warfare, we must deduct many of those peaceful years.

It must, however, be related to the praise of Ireland, that within this short period she has established one of the greatest manufactures in the world, and that too in the most northern, mountainous, and barren part of the kingdom; whilst the internal, southern, and fruitful parts, with scarce a remnant of manufacture, are verging to depopulation. A very singular phenomenon this, that the prosperity and happiness of a people should be inversely as the fertility of the districts they occupy!