Background To The Act Of UnionPresentation Transcript
Background to the Act of Union
“ The Irish Problem” in the 18 th Century Political: Ireland was a separate Kingdom with it’s own parliament however under Poyning’s Law of 1494 the Irish Parliament was subordinate to the Westminster Government. The King’s representative – the Lord Lieutenant - based in Dublin Castle controlled the administration of Ireland. The Irish Parliament had no control over his appointment or his office.
“ The Irish Problem” in the 18 th Century Religious: The religious battles in Europe in the 17 th Century had left a situation in Ireland where the majority population was not trusted to hold public office or vote because of their affiliation to the Roman Catholic Church. Catholic could not take part in the running of the country. The Protestant Ascendancy class in Ireland ruled on behalf of the British however they represented only a small percentage of the population. Many middle-class protestants, especially Presbyterians resented their subordinance to Britain and they demanded more say in the running of the country.
“ The Irish Problem” in the 18 th Century Economic: 5% of the population (the landed aristocracy or ‘ascendancy') owned 90% of the land in Ireland. The rest of the population (mostly Catholic although in Ulster there was a large population of protestant dissenters) were forced to rent land from the landowners. Many of the farms were small and unproductive leading to poverty and regular mini-famines. 1 million Irish Catholics were landless labourers who roamed the country working as hired help on small farms.
“ The Irish Problem” in the 18 th Century
The Irish problem led to a number of protest movements in the late 1700’s which demanded change
Henry Grattan and a group of Irish MP’s known as the Patriots called for Legislative Independence and Free Trade for Ireland in the 1750’s
The Catholic Committee was set up in 1770 to campaign for Catholic Emancipation (religious equality)
The causes of Parliamentary Reform and Catholic Emancipation were to run hand in hand with each other for the next 50 years with emancipation finally being granted in 1829
The Impact of the American War of Independence 1775 - 1781
Many Protestants in Ireland took inspiration from the cause of the American Revolutionaries
The slogan “No taxation without representation” appealed to the Irish protestants who felt that the British parliament was denying them the opportunity to rule their own country
A volunteer movement sprang up with 40,000 members – the military arm of protestant nationalism
1780 Free Trade for Ireland was introduced
1782 Irish Constitution replaced Poyning's Law
“Ireland is now a Nation!” Henry Grattan
Parliament had no control over the executive (the Castle)
The Lord-Lieutenant could still control parliament through patronage, influence and corruption
The limited political reform was not matched by any rights for Catholics
Despite Grattan’s enthusiasm the reforms were more apparent than real. Discontent simmered under the surfaced but reappeared during the period of the French Revolution .
The French Revolution The French Revolution in 1789 saw the old ruling elite of France overthrown by the emerging middle-classes and the arrival of Republican government. Probably more significant was the ideology of the revolution which was anti-clerical and which espoused liberty and equality. Imagine how dangerous these ideas would be in a society without freedom and equality.
Which groups may fear a revolution and which groups could gain from one? The execution of Louis XVI in 1792
The impact of the French Revolution in Ireland
Britain and Revolutionary France went to war in 1793
Pitt fearing sympathy for France within the ranks of Irish Catholics and Presbyterians forced reforms on a reluctant parliament and Lord Lieutenant.
Catholics were granted the right to vote
Catholics were allowed to hold posts in the Military
Catholics could become barristers
These reforms did not go very far as Catholics still could not sit in parliament but one key consequence of the French Revolution was that the cause of Catholic Emancipation was now firmly on the political agenda. The reluctance of the Irish parliament to agree to these reforms encouraged the growth of more extreme reform movements .
Wolfe Tone and “The United Irishmen” Tone was a middle-class Dublin protestant. His inspiration was the French Revolution. The United Irishmen aimed to create an Irish Republic with equality and liberty for all – “Catholic, Protestant and dissenter” In 1795 Tone went to France to try to persuade the French to invade Ireland. A French fleet arrived at Bantry in 1796 but could not dock due to poor weather.
The 1798 Rebellion The rebellion between May and August cost 30,000 lives but ultimately failed. The government in Britain realised it needed to deal with the Irish problem before it imperilled the security of both nations.
“ The fears and doubts inspired by the events of 1798 meant therefore that the arguments in favour of a union of the two kingdoms became more powerful and imperative to the British government and its supporters on both sides of the Irish sea.” Adelman and Pearce, p.22
Arguments for Union William Pitt hoped that the Act of Union would aid the security of both nations. Once the Kingdoms were united Catholics would be a minority thus removing the Ascendancy’s fears over Emancipation. Political unity would have a beneficial effect on Ireland’s economy.
Arguments against Union The biggest opponents of Union were the Protestant Ascendancy. Their anti-unionist stance however was not a united one as some of them were merely opposed to parliamentary reform whereas others were opposed to the Catholic Emancipation which they saw as the logical consequence of Union. They argued that Ireland was a separate nation and that it was the Irish gentry who had put down the 1798 revolt.
The Act of Union is Passed
Irish Chief Secretary Lord Castlereagh set about ensuring that the Irish Parliament would accept Union. He put pressure on the anti-unionists using bribery. He pursued many anti-unionists to give up their seats and consequently in early 1800 both houses of the Irish parliament passed the Act of Union
How did they pass the Union? By perjury and fraud; By slaves who sold their land for gold As Judas sold his God… And thus was passed the Union By Pitt and Castlereagh; Could Satan send for such an end More worthy tools than they?
The high hopes of the supporters of the Union were largely unfulfilled
Ireland was still treated as a separate country by the British
The viceroy remained as the King’s representative
The Irish Chief Secretary dealt with Irish affairs in the House of Commons
The Protestant Ascendancy continued to run local politics in Ireland
Originally anti-unionist, Protestants gradually accepted the new arrangements.
Catholics became increasingly anti-unionist as Union was not followed up by Catholic Emancipation
Economically Ireland suffered as its industry could not compete with England’s. Thousands emigrated.
“ The religious and national divide in Ireland, contary to the hopes of men like William Pitt, was therefore strengthened rather than weakened as a result of the Act of Union.” “ It was in these circumstances that a new outstanding leader of Catholic Ireland emerged in the 1820’s in the Person of Daniel O’Connell…” Adelman and Pearce, p.27.