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The History of Ulster
The Volunteer Movement

Address by the Volunteers to the Minority in both Houses of Parliament— The Minority make a Move—Lord Carlisle succeeded as Viceroy by the Duke of Portland—Grattan's Motion for a Declaration of Rights—Grattan's Views and those of Flood opposed—Parliament sides with Grattan, and the Volunteers with Flood — The Belfast First Volunteers address Grattan — Review held in Belfast—Popular Clamour for Parliamentary Reform.

The spirit in which the Ulster Volunteer corps acted may best be gauged by the following address to the Minority in both Houses of Parliament, which was adopted at the Convention of Dungannon: "We thank you for your noble and spirited, though ineffectual efforts, in defence of the great and commercial rights of your country. Go on! the unanimous voice of the people is with you, and in a free country the voice of the people must prevail. We know our duty to our sovereign, and are loyal; we know our duty to ourselves, and are resolved to be free. We seek for our rights, and ho more than our rights; and in so just a pursuit, we should doubt the being of Providence if we doubted of success."

Four members from each county of Ulster having been appointed as a committee until the next general meeting, one of the first acts of the Ulster Committee was to publish an address to the electors of members of Parliament in the province.

"Delegated by the Volunteers assembled at Dungannon," reads this document, "we call on you to support the constitutional and commercial rights of Ireland; to exert the important privileges of freemen at the ensuing election, and to proclaim to the world that you at least deserve to be free. Regard not the threats of landlords or their agents, when they require you to fail in your duty to God, to your country, to yourselves, to your posterity. The first privilege of a man is the right of judging for himself, and now is the time for you to exert that right. It is a time pregnant with circumstances, which revolving ages may not again so favourably combine. The spirit of liberty is gone abroad, it is embraced by the people at large, and every day brings with it an acquisition of strength. The timid have laid aside their fears, and the virtuous sons of Ireland stand secure in their numbers. Undue influence is now as despised as it has ever been contemptible; and he who would dare to punish an elector for exerting the rights of a freeman, would meet what he would merit—public detestation and abhorrence.

"Let no individual neglect his duty. The nation is an aggregate of individuals, and the strength of the whole is composed of the exertions of each part; the man, therefore, who omits what is in his power, and will not exert his utmost efforts for the emancipation of his country because they can at best be the efforts of but one man, stands accountable to his God and to his country, to himself and to his posterity, for confirming and entailing slavery on the land which gave him birth. Vote only for men whose past conduct in Parliament you and the nation approve. Do your duty to your country, and let no consideration tempt you to sacrifice the public to a private tie, the greater duty to a less.

"We entreat you, in the name of the great and respectable body we represent; we implore you, by every social and honourable tie; we conjure you as citizens, as freemen, as Irishmen, to raise this long-insulted kingdom, and restore to her her lost rights. One great and united effort will place us among the first nations of the earth, and those who shall have the glory of contributing to that event, will be forever recorded as the saviours of their country."

The Minority lost no time in responding to the address of the Volunteers. On the 22nd of February, 1782, one week after the Dungannon Convention, Henry Grattan moved an address to the King embodying the resolutions. Grattan's motion was lost by a majority of 137 to 68. The Irish Parliament was adjourned from the 14th of March to the 16th of April. In the meantime Lord North's Administration fell and the Marquis of Rockingham returned to office. Charles James Fox and Edmund Burke were members of this Administration. On the fall of Lord North's ministry, Lord Carlisle retired and was succeeded by the Duke of Portland, who was sworn into office as Lord-Lieutenant on the 14th of April. Fox communicated to the English Parliament a royal message, recommending to their immediate consideration the adjustment of the questions which produced so serious an agitation in Ireland, in order that there might be made "such a final adjustment as may give mutual satisfaction to both Kingdoms".

The new Viceroy met the Irish Parliament on the 16th of April, when Grattan moved as an amendment to the address his original motion for a Declaration of Rights, pointing out the principal causes of the discontent in Ireland, and declaring that to remove those causes, the VI George I c. 5, which asserted the dependency of the Irish Parliament on that of England, should be repealed, the appelate jurisdiction of the Lords of Ireland should be restored, the unconstitutional powers of the Privy Council should be abolished, and the perpetual Mutiny Bill repealed. This amendment, which embodied the Resolutions of the Dungannon Convention, was unanimously adopted.

Grattan in his speech referred to the rapid strides which the Irish people had recently made on the road to constitutional independence, and, declaring that he entirely approved of the meeting at Dungannon, he compared the proceedings of the Ulster Volunteers to those of the English barons, which resulted in the securing of Magna Charta. In the course of his speech he said: "If England wishes well to Ireland, she has nothing to fear from her strength. The Volunteers of Ireland would die in support of England. This nation is connected with England, not by allegiance only, but by liberty—the crown is a great joint of union, but Magna Charta is a greater—we could get a King anywhere; but England is the only country from which we could get a constitution. We are not united with England, as Judge Blackstone has foolishly said, by conquest—but by charter; Ireland has British privileges, and is by them connected with Britain—both countries are united in liberty."

In addition to these expressions of loyalty, Grattan's motion contained passages which assured His Majesty that "his subjects of Ireland are a free people, that the crown of Ireland is an Imperial Crown, inseparably annexed to the crown of Great Britain, on which connection the interests and happiness of both nations essentially depend; but," he added, "the kingdom of Ireland is a distinct kingdom, with a Parliament of her own, the sole legislature thereof. That there is no body of men competent to make laws to bind this nation, except the King, and Lords and Commons of Ireland; nor any other Parliament which hath any authority or power, of any sort whatsoever, in this country, save only the Parliament of Ireland."

The proceedings of the Irish House of Commons had been interrupted by the sudden change of Viceroy, and it was now too busily occupied with the great questions which it was called upon to decide to trouble about minor matters. So great was the change which had taken place in the House that many of those who had supported the most objectionable measures of the late Government now upheld the popular side with enthusiasm.

On the 17th of May the Earl of Shelburne in the Lords, and Fox in Commons, moved the consideration of the Irish question, which was entered upon with the greatest calmness and good feeling. A part of what was demanded lay entirely between the Irish Parliament and the King, and therefore two motions were made and passed: the first that the Act of VI George I, entitled: "An Act for the better securing the Dependency of Ireland upon the Crown of Great Britain", should be repealed; and the second: "that it was the opinion of the House, that it was indispensable to the interests and happiness of both kingdoms, that the connection between them should be established by mutual consent, upon a solid and permanent footing, and that an humble address should be presented to His Majesty, that His Majesty would be graciously pleased to take such measures as His Majesty in his royal wisdom should think most conducive to that important end."

These resolutions passed the Lower House unanimously; and in the Upper the only dissentient voice was that of Lord Loughborough. Ten days later the Irish Parliament met after an adjournment of three weeks, and the Duke of Portland announced in his opening speech the unconditional concessions made to Ireland by the Parliament of Great Britain. The news was received with an outburst of gratitude. These concessions, as expounded by Grattan, amounted to the giving up by England, unconditionally, of every claim of legislative authority over Ireland. They were grounded not merely on expediency, but on constitutional principles. They were yielded magnanimously, and all constitutional differences between the two countries were thereby terminated. A warm discussion followed, in which Grattan's great rival, Flood, Sir Samuel Bradstreet, Recorder of Dublin, and others took part. They took a different view of the concessions; but Grattan's arguments prevailed and the Address was carried by a division of 211 to 2. The House then, as an evidence of its gratitude, voted that 20,000 Irish seamen should be raised to supplement the British navy, and a grant of £100,000 be made to carry out that object. Nothing was heard but mutual congratulations. A great and bloodless victory had been won by the Volunteers.

The death of Rockingham in July, 1782, broke up the Ministry. Lord Shelburne became Premier, with William Pitt as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Earl Temple succeeded the Duke of Portland as Lord-Lieutenant in Ireland.

Two parties now arose among the patriots, led by the rival orators, Grattan and Flood. In the first essential difference between these two men Flood was clearly in the right. He held that a simple repeal of the Declaratory Act of George I by England was not a sufficient security against the resumption of legislative control. Grattan, on the other hand, maintained that Ireland had not gone to England for a charter but with a charter, and had requested her to cancel all declarations in opposition to it. It must be admitted that Ireland had no charter. Her Declaration of Right was not a Bill of Rights, and Flood demanded a Bill of Rights. Whatever were the merits of the controversy it had the worst effects. Parliament adopted the views of Grattan; the Volunteers sided with Flood. The opinion of the Lawyers' corps of Volunteers was in favour of Flood's interpretation of the constitutional relations of the two countries. They considered that repealing a declaration was not destroying a principle, and that a State renouncing any pre-existing right was an indispensable guarantee for future security. They appointed a committee to enquire into the question, which reported that it was necessary that an express renunciation should accompany the repeal of the VI George I.

The Belfast First Volunteer company addressed Grattan on this important subject. Doubts, they said, had arisen whether the repeal of VI George I was a sufficient renunciation of the power formally exercised over Ireland. They thought it advisable that a law should be enacted similar to the address which had been moved to His Majesty, and which embodied the declaration of the Rights of Ireland. Grattan's answer was laconic but explicit. He said he had given the fullest consideration to their suggestions; he was sorry he differed from them; he conceived their doubts to be ill-founded. With great respect for their opinions and unalterable attachment to their interest he adhered to the latter. They received a different answer from Flood, whom they admitted as a member of their corps.

Trouble now arose in Ulster caused by public expressions of dissatisfaction made by two Volunteer corps in Belfast. The Belfast review, the most important held in Ireland, was made the occasion for a striking demonstration. The first Belfast company, which took the lead in this movement, published on the 18th of July, 1782, an address to the different corps that were to be present at the review on the 31st, in which they made a declaration of their cause of discontent. They put forward as the grounds of their proceeding: "that the rights of this kingdom are not yet secured, nor even acknowledged by Britain, partly owing to the delusions of many sincere friends, to the perfidy of pretended ones, and to an error committed through precipitancy by our representatives in the senate". "Unless", said the framers of this address, "a spark of that sacred flame which but a few days ago glowed in every breast in Ulster be again excited, the glorious attempt of this country to procure its emancipation, instead of producing any real permanent good, will too probably be the means of depriving us of our rights for ever."

On the 31st of July about 4000 Volunteers, well armed and accoutred, assembled at Belfast to be reviewed by Lord Charlemont. Delegates assembled on the 3rd of August and proceeded to make a declaration of their sentiments in the form of an address to Lord Charlemont, as their reviewing general. Major Dobbs, as exercising-officer, moved the address, and inserted in it a clause expressing their full satisfaction with the concessions granted by Great Britain. This clause was opposed by the discontented party, who moved as an amendment that it should be expunged; and after a debate of eleven hours the amendment was carried by a majority of two.

Parliamentary reform became now the supreme question of the day. On the 1st of July, 1783, delegates from forty-five companies of Volunteers in the province of Ulster met at Lisburn, in pursuance of a public requisition, and determined to call a general meeting of the Volunteer delegates at Dungannon on the 8th of September to consider the great question of the hour. On the date agreed the meeting was held at Dungannon as arranged, when it was resolved to hold in the capital a grand national convention in the month of November following, and this great convention accordingly took place.

In the meantime the question of retrenchment in the national expenses, and particularly in the military department, had been brought before the Irish House of Commons. On the 3rd of November Flood recommended the disbandment of the Volunteers, which caused not a little commotion in that body, and led to the Volunteer movement in its later manifestations of activity being regarded with popular suspicion and distrust.

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