First published in 1790, republished by Cuman na mBan in 1915, and by PANA in 2006, still one of Ireland's greatest pieces of political analysis, and still relevant. At the time of writing, Britain had seized territory claimed by Spain, at the North West coast of America (a dispute not unlike the current Chinese / Japanese dispute) - and it appeared that England and Spain were going to go to war.
(to be continued)
AN INQUIRY HOW FAR IRELAND IS BOUND, OF RIGHT, TO EMBARK IN THE IMPENDING CONTEST ON THE SIDE OF GREAT BRITAIN.
Addressed to the Members of both Houses of Parliament, 1790.
- Tecum Prius ergo voluta
- Haec animo ante tubas; galeatum sero duelli
Many of the ideas on the following pages may doubtless appear extraordinary, and some of them, to cautious men, too hardy. To the first, it maybe answered that, until the present, no occasion has happened where such a question could arise, as I venture to investigate.
Since the lately acknowledged independence of Ireland, this is the first time when our assistance to Britain has become necessary, and the question of right had better be settled in the outset. To the last, I shall only submit that it is not whether the ideas are hardy, but whether they are true, that is of importance to this kingdom. If the reason of my countrymen be convinced, I have no doubt of their spirit.
Consideration on the Approaching War with Spain
My Lords and Gentlemen: The Minister of England has formally announced the probability of a rupture with Spain; and the British nation is arming with all possible energy and despatch; and, from Land’s End to the Orkneys, nothing is to be heard but dreadful note of preparation; ships are equipped, press warrants are granted, beating orders issued, and a million raised; all parties unite in one great principle – the support of the national honour, and pulling down Spanish pride; and hope and glowing expectation kindle the native valour of England; the British lion has lashed himself into a fury, and woe the unlucky Spaniard whom he may seize in his gripe.
But this is not all; the Minister of England, in the overflowing of his benevolence to this happy isle, has been graciously pleased to allow us an opportunity of following the noble beast in the course of glory and profit; so that we may, from hi leavings, glean up sufficient of honour and wealth to emblazon and enrich us till time shall be no more. Press warrants are granted, and beating orders issued here, too, and the youth of Hibernia have no more to do but to take the King’s money first, as earnest, and the riches of Spain follow of course. I know the ardent valour of my countrymen, ever impatient of peace and prompt for battle, heightened and inflamed as it now is by the eloquence of the sergeant and the music of his drum, will strongly impel them, more majorum, to brandish the cudgel first, and discuss the merits after; a very common process among them. But you, my lords and gentlemen, will, I trust,
look a little deeper into things; with all the spirit of our rustics, you will show that you are just and prudent, as well as valiant.
Now is the instant for consideration, before the Rubicon be passed; and the example which Caesar showed, the bravest of you need not blush to follow. It is universally expected that, at your meeting, the Secretary will come forward to acquaint you that his majesty is preparing for war with Spain, and hopes for your concurrence to carry it on, so as to procure the blessings of an honourable peace. This message he will endeavour to have answered by an
address, offering, very frankly, our lives and fortunes to the disposal of the British Minister in the approaching contest; and, that will be followed by up by a vote of credit for three hundred thousand pounds as our quota of the expense; a sum of a magnitude very alarming to the finances of this country. But it is not the magnitude of the grant which is the great object; it is the consequence of it, involving a question between the two countries of no less
importance than this:
‘WHETHER IRELAND BE, OF RIGHT, BOUND TO SUPPORT A WAR,
DECLARED BY THE KING OF GREAT BRITAIN, ON MOTIVES AND
INTERESTS ENTIRELY BRITISH?’
If it appear that she is, it is our duty to submit to the necessity, however inconvenient; if it appear that she is not so bound, but may grant or withhold her assistance to England, then it will be for your wisdoms to consider whether war be for her interest or not. If it be, you will doubtless take the necessary steps to carry it on with spirit and effect; if it be not, you will make arrangements to obtain and secure a safe and honourable neutrality. The present is a question of too much importance to both countries to be left unsettled; but though it be of great weight and moment indeed, I do not apprehend it to be of great difficulty. The matter of right lies in a nut-shell, turning on two principles which no man will, I hope, pretend to deny: First, that the Crown of Ireland is an imperial crown, and her legislature separate
and independent; and, secondly, that the prerogative of the Crown, and the constitution and powers of parliament, are the same here as in Great Britain. It is, undoubtedly, the King’s royal prerogative to declare war against any power it may please him to quarrel with; and when proclamation is made here to that effect, I admit, we are then engaged, just as the people of England are, in similar circumstances. But as we have here a free and independent parliament, it is as undoubtedly their privilege to grant, or withhold, the
supplies; and if they peremptorily refuse them, and the Mutiny Act, I know not how an army is to be paid, or governed, without proceeding to means not to be thought on. It follows, therefore, that the parliament of Ireland have a kind of negative voice, in the question of war and peace, exactly similar to that of the English parliament. If, then, they have this deliberative power, they are no further bound to support a war than the English parliament is, which may, undoubtedly, compel peace at any time by postponing the money and mutiny
bills. They are, therefore, not bound to support any war until they have previously approved and adopted it. The king of Ireland may declare the war, but it is the parliament only that can carry it on. If this be so, it follows, very clearly, that we are not, more than England, ipso facto, committed, merely by the declaration of war of our own king; and, a fortiori, much less are we committed by his declaration, as king of Great Britain, when our interest is
endamaged, and the quarrel and the profit are merely and purely English. If the parliament of England address his majesty for war and, in consequence, war be proclaimed; if we are at once, without our consent, perhaps against our will and our interest, engaged, and our parliament bound to support that war, in pursuance of that address; then, I saw, the independence of Ireland is sacrificed, we are bound by the act of the British parliament, and the charter of our liberties is waste paper.
TO TALK OF THE INDEPENDENCE OF A COUNTRY, AND YET DENY
HER A NEGATIVE VOICE IN A QUESTION OF NO LESS IMPORT TO HER
WELL-BEING THAN THAT OF PEACE OR WAR, IS IMPUDENT NONSENSE.
But, I hope and trust, no man at this day will be so hardy as to advance such as assertion, or to deny that our parliament is co-ordinate with that of England, and equally competent to the regulation of all our domestic concerns and foreign interests, with similar powers of assent and refusal, and if so, with equal right to receive or reject a war. From the question of right, which will not be denied you, suffer me to call your attention to the question of expediency. You may, at your will, draw the sword, or hold out the olive. It remains, therefore, to examine which line of conduct is likely to be most beneficial to your country. Before you commit ourselves, decidedly, to war or peace, it behoves you well to consider the consequences of both to Ireland; see what she can gain, see what she must lose, try how far her interest or her honour is concerned: reflect that on your first vote depend the properties, the liberties, the lives of thousands of your countrymen; and, above all, remember you are about to make a precedent for future ages, in the great question of the obligation on Ireland to follow Great Britain to war; as a necessary appendage. What, in the first place, are the grounds of the quarrel as to Ireland? And what are the profits she has to look to from the contest between Spain and England?
It will not be pretended that we have immediately, from our own concerns, any ground for interfering in the approaching war; on the contrary, peace with all the world, but peace with Spain particularly, is our object and our interest. The quarrel is merely and purely English. A few individuals in China, members of a company which is possessed of a monopoly of the commerce to the East, to the utter exclusion of this country, fitted out certain ships to trade to the North Western coast of America, for furs, which they expected would prove a lucrative article of traffic. The Spaniards, actuated by pride or jealously, or both, have, it seems, seized these vessels, to the disgrace of (not the Irish, but) the British flag, and to enforce satisfaction, an armament is preparing. In this transaction the probability is that Spain is in the wrong, and England is acting with no more than a becoming spirit; but the question with us is, not who is wrong, or who is right? Ours are discussions of a different nature; to foster and cherish a growing trade, to cultivate and civilize a yet unpolished people, to obliterate the impression of ancient religious feuds, to watch, with incessant and anxious care, the cradle of an infant constitution; these are our duties, and these are indispensable. Removed a hemisphere from he scene of action, unconnected with the interest in question, debarred from the gains of the commerce, what has Ireland to demand her interference, more than if the debate arose between the Emperor of Japan and the King of Corea? Will she profit if England secure the trade? No. Will she lose if England cannot obtain one otter skin? No. Shall we eat, drink or sleep one jot the worse whether the Mandarins of Pekin line their doublets with furs purchased froma Spanish or an English merchant? No. Decidedly, then, the quarrel is English, the profit will be to England, and Ireland will be left to console herself for her treasure spent, and her gallant sons fallen, by the reflection that valour, like virtue, is its own reward, and that she has given Great Britain one more opportunity to be ungrateful. So much for the ground of quarrel, and the profit we are to expect from the war!