The American War and Its Effects on Ireland (1772-1778)

Patrick Weston Joyce

781. Lord Harcourt, coming as lord lieutenant in 1772, was well received by the leaders of the opposition. On the assembling of parliament in October 1773, a bill was introduced at his suggestion to put a tax of two shillings in the pound on the incomes of those absentee landlords who did not reside at least six months of the year in Ireland. But through the influence of the great landed proprietors it was rejected.

782. At this time three great men began their career, and for years played an important part in Irish affairs:—Henry Flood, born near Kilkenny, 1732: died 1791: Henry Grattan, born in Dublin, 1746, the son of the recorder, died 1820; Edmund Burke, born in Dublin in 1730; died 1797.

783. Burke, who figured in the English parliament, was, perhaps, the greatest political philosopher that ever lived. He began his public life in 1765, as private secretary to lord Rockingham, the English prime minister, and in the following year he was elected member for Wendover. In 1774 he became member for Bristol. He opposed the American war; and on this question and on those of the French revolution, and the Stamp act, he wrote powerful pamphlets, and made a series of splendid speeches. He lifted himself above the prejudices of the times, and all his life advocated the emancipation of the Catholics.

784. Grattan was, perhaps, Ireland's most brilliant orator and one of her purest and greatest patriots. He began his parliamentary life in 1775, at twenty-nine years of age, as member for Charlemont; and his very first speech was in opposition to the pensions of two absentees. In oratorical power, Flood was second only to Grattan.

785. In 1775 began the war between England and her North American colonies, which was brought on mainly by an attempt to tax the colonists without giving them any voice in the matter. Against this they revolted, and in the end succeeded in making themselves independent.

786. This war deeply affected Ireland in more ways than one. In November of the same year the Irish parliament agreed, on the king's request, to send 4,000 Irish troops for service in America, England to bear the expense. But they declined another proposition, to supply their place with 4,000 Protestant troops from Germany, which greatly mortified the government. At this time the nominal force in Ireland was only 12,000 troops; but the real available force was greatly less.

787. In order to cheapen provisions for the British army, as well as to prevent supplies reaching America, an embargo was, in 1776, laid on the exportation of provisions from Irish ports, which almost ruined the farmers, and produced wide-spread distress.

788. The Irish parliament showed such dangerous discontent at this measure, that it was dissolved, and a new election ordered; and lord Buckinghamshire was sent over as lord lieutenant. The elections were greatly corrupted by bribes to secure a majority for the government. The embargo gave rise to a flourishing smuggling trade in provisions, which was extensively carried on, especially round the intricate coasts of the south and west.

789. In Ireland the people generally sympathised with America; for they felt that the grievances from which they had so long suffered, were exactly those against which the Americans had risen in revolt. Their feelings were intensified by witnessing the distress caused by the embargo, which was forced on this country from England without their consent.

790. When the war began in 1775 there were some discussions in the English parliament about removing of the commercial restrictions on Ireland: and there were a few trifling concessions; which, however, were much more than counterbalanced by the embargo.

791. In 1777 the English general Burgoyne with 6,000 men had to surrender to the American general Gage at Saratoga. This caused great consternation in England, which was increased when France declared for America.

792. In 1778 France acknowledged the independence of the United States, which produced greater alarm still. Soon after, in the same year, the English Catholics were partially relieved by the English parliament, and the Irish embargo on provisions was removed immediately after.

793. In May 1778, a bill was introduced in the Irish patliament by Mr. Luke Gardiner, afterwards lord Mountjoy, granting considerable relief to Irish Catholics and Dissenters, and after a long contest and determined opposition it was carried by a majority of only nine.

794. This act repealed those enactments which prohibited the purchase of freehold property by Catholics (696) and which gave the whole property to the eldest son who became a Protestant (693). Instead of the right to purchase, they got what was as good, the right to lease for 999 years. In the following year the Test act (697) was abolished; which relieved Dissenters as well as Catholics.