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DECLARATION OF IRISH RIGHTS.
APRIL 19, 1780.
On this day came on the most important subject that had ever been discussed in the Irish Parliament, - the question of independence — the recovery of that legislative power, of which, for centuries, Ireland had been so unjustly deprived.
Her right to make laws for herself, was first affected by the act of the 10th of Henry the Seventh, in a parliament, held at Drogheda, before the then Deputy, Sir Edward Poynings. It was there enacted that no parliament should be holden in Ireland, until the Lord-lieutenant and Privy Council should certify to the King under the great seal of Ireland, the causes, considerations, and acts that were to pass; that the same should be affirmed by the King and council in England, and his license to summon a parliament be obtained under the great seal of England. This was further explained by the 3d and 4th of Philip and Mary, whereby any change or alteration in the form or tenor of such acts to be passed after they were returned from England, was prohibited. Thus, by these laws the English privy council got the power to alter or suppress, and the Irish parliament were deprived of the power to originate, alter, or amend.
By these acts were the legislative rights of Ireland invaded : her judicial rights, however, remained untouched, till, in 1688, a petition and appeal was lodged with the House of Lords of England, from the English society of the new plantation of Ulster, complaining of the Irish House of Lords, who had decided in a case between them and the Bishop of Derry. Upon this the English House of Lords passed an order declaring, that this appeal was coram non judice. To this order fourteen reasons and answers were written by the celebrated Molyneux, and the appeal gave rise to his famous work, entitled “The Case of Ireland,” which excited the hostility of the English House of Commons, and was burned by the hands of the common hangman! The Irish House of Lords then asserted their rights, passed resolutions, and protested against the English proceedings; thus matters remained until 1703, when came on the case of the Earl and Countess of Meath against the Lord Ward, who were dispossessed of their lands by a pretended order of the House of Lords in England, on which the Irish House of Peers adopted the former resolutions, asserting their rights, and restored possession to the Earl and Countess. In 1703, the appeal of Maurice Annesley was entertained in England, and the decree of the Irish House of Lords was reversed; and the English House of Lords had recourse to the authority of the Barons of the Exchequer in Ireland to enforce their order; the Sheriff refused obedience; the Irish House of Lords protected the Sheriff, and agreed to a representation to the King on the subject. This produced the arbitrary act of the 6th of George the First, which declared, that Ireland was a subordinate
and dependent kingdom; that the King, Lords, and Commons of England had power to make Laws to bind Ireland; that the House of Lords of Ireland had no jurisdiction, and that all proceedings before that Court were void. Under this act, and to such injustice, the Irish nation were compelled to submit, until the spirit of the present day arose, and that commanding power which the armed volunteers gave to the country, encouraged the people to rise unanimously against this usurped and tyrannical authority. The efforts of the nation to obtain a free trade, the compliance of the British Parliament with that claim; the British act passed in consequence thereof, which allowed the trade between Ireland and the British colonies and plantations in America and the West Indies, and the British settlements on the coast of Africa, had raised the hopes of the Irish people. The resolutions and proceedings of the volunteers, and the answers to their addresses by the patriotic members, had still further roused the people to a sense of their rights and their condition, and the hour was approaching which was to witness the restoration of their liberty. Mr. Grattan had, on a preceding day, given notice that he would bring forward a measure regarding the rights of Ireland; and in pursuance of that notice he rose and spoke as follows:
YIR, I have entreated an attendance on this day, that you might,
in the most public manner, deny the claim of the British Parliament to make law for Ireland, and with one voice lift up
your hands against it. If I had lived when the 9th of William took away the woollen manufacture, or when the 6th of George the First declared this country to be dependent, and subject to laws to be enacted by the Parliament of England, I should have made a covenant with my own conscience to seize the first moment of rescuing my country from the ignominy of such acts of power; or, if I had a son, I should have administered to him an oath that he would consider himself a person separate and set apart for the discharge of so important a duty ; upon the same principle I am now come to move a declaration of right, the first moment occurring, since my time, in which such a declaration could be made with any chance of success, and without aggravation of oppression.
Sir, it must appear to every person, that, notwithstanding the import of sugar and export of woollens, the people of this country are not satisfied — something remains; the greater work is behind ; the public heart is not well at ease. To promulgate our satisfaction ; to stop the throats of millions with the votes of Parliament; to preach homilies to the volunteers; to utter invectives against the people, under pretence of affectionate advice, is an attempt, weak, suspicious and inflammatory.
You cannot dictate to those whose sense you are entrusted to represent; your ancestors, who sat within these walls, lost to Ireland trade and liberty; you, by the assistance of the people, have recovered trade, you still owe the kingdom liberty; she calls upon you to restore it.
The ground of public discontent seems to be, "we have gotten commerce, but not freedom”: the same power which took away the export of woollens and the export of glass, may take them away again; the repeal is partial, and the ground of repeal is upon a principle of expediency.
Sir, expedient is a word of appropriated and tyrannical import; expedient is an ill-omened word, selected to express the reservation of authority, while the exercise is mitigated; expedient is the illomened expression of the Repeal of the American stamp-act. England thought it expedient to repeal that law; happy had it been for mankind, if, when she withdrew the exercise, she had not reserved the right! To that reservation she owes the loss of her American empire, at the expense of millions, and America the seeking of liberty through a sea of bloodshed. The repeal of the woollen act, similarly circumstanced, pointed against the principle of our liberty, present relaxation, but tyranny in reserve, may be a subject for illumination to a populace, or a pretence for apostacy to a courtier, but cannot be the subject of settled satisfaction to a freeborn, an intelligent, and an injured community. It is therefore they consider the free trade as a trade de facto, not de jure, a license to trade under the Parliament of England, not a free trade under the charters of Ireland, as a tribute to her strength ; to maintain which, she must continue in a state of armed preparation, dreading the approach of a general peace, and attributing all she holds dear to the calamitous condition of the British interest in every quarter of the globe. This dissatisfaction, founded upon a consideration of the liberty we have lost, is increased when they consider the opportunity they are losing; for if this nation, after the death-wound given to her freedom, had fallen on her knees in anguish, and besought the Almighty to frame an occasion in which a weak and injured people might recover their rights, prayer could not have asked, nor God have furnished, a moment more opportune for the restoration of liberty, than this, in which I have the honor to address you.