Henry Grattan

Grattan, Henry, was born in St. John’s parish, Dublin, 3rd July 1746.

His father was for many years Recorder of, and member for Dublin; his ancestors on the paternal side were intimate friends of Swift; and his mother’s family, the Marlays, were descended from Captain Anthony Marlay, who received an appointment in the Duke of Ormond’s regiment in 1677.

Henry Grattan was sent to Ball’s School in Ship-street (where John FitzGibbon, afterwards Lord Clare, was his school-mate), thence he was removed to Mr. Young’s, in Abbey-street, where were educated others of his parliamentary contemporaries. He was considered a lad of much spirit, and was highly respected by his school-fellows.

In 1763 he entered Trinity College, where his greatest intimate was Mr. Broome, a cornet in the army. Grattan’s correspondence with him discovers a somewhat gloomy turn of mind at this period.

There was considerable incompatibility of temper between Henry Grattan and his father, who at his death in 1766 left the family mansion to another; but through his mother a small independence was secured to him.

In 1767 Grattan went to London, and entered in Michaelmas term as student at the Middle Temple.

The Houses of Parliament soon became his favourite place of resort, and there he was enthralled by the oratory of Lord Chatham.

The loss of his beloved sister, Catherine, during his London residence, was a cause of profound grief to him, and in November 1768, he received the news of his mother’s sudden death. In consequence of her intestacy, the bulk of the property intended for him reverted to another branch of the family.

In 1768 the marriage of his eldest sister to Mr. Gervase P. Bushe, M.P. for Callan, cemented a close intimacy between Grattan and Henry Flood, who resided near Mr. Bushe, in the County of Kilkenny. They corresponded, argued, and debated, and together performed in private theatricals, then much in vogue in Ireland.

In the autumn of 1771 Grattan travelled in France, where he made many friendships; he was called to the Irish Bar next year, and began seriously to apply himself to legal studies, and go circuit. By this time he had also become intimate with Lord Charlemont, Hussey Burgh, Denis Daly, Yelverton, Bushe, Langrishe, Day, and other eminent Irish statesmen.

Day continued one of his most intimate and attached friends through life.

These kindred spirits formed a club, chiefly for the discussion of politics, entitled the “Society of Granby-row.”

Grattan gradually became more and more interested in Irish affairs, and on the 11th December 1775 took his seat in Parliament for the borough of Charlemont, having been nominated thereto by his friend, Lord Charlemont.

His first speech, made on the 15th December, was an unavailing protest against the grant of £3,500 a year each to two absentee Vice-Treasurers of Ireland.

A Dublin paper of the day wrote:

“Mr. Grattan spoke—not a studied speech, but in reply—the spontaneous flow of natural eloquence. Though so young a man, he spoke without hesitation; and if he keeps to this example, will be a valuable weight in the scale of patriotism.”

In February 1776, with Bushe, Yelverton, and others, he protested against the embargo laid by the British government on Irish provisions, which was defended by Mr. Flood.

In November 1777 he again took a prominent part against a similar measure, made a motion for retrenchment, and inveighed against the war being waged with the American colonies.

Although his efforts in the cause of his country as yet bore little fruit, he was regarded by many as a leader of the party which declared itself irreconcilably opposed to the policy by which Ireland was governed.

At this period, Mr. Fox visited Ireland, and then commenced that acquaintance and warm sympathy between him and Grattan which continued through life.

At length the British reverses in America, to which the expatriated Protestant Irish had so materially contributed, aroused Ministers to the necessity of conceding something to Irish demands, and on 4th November 1778 a Bill was passed enabling Catholics to take leases for lives or years concurrent, and to hold land for 999 years, or any number of years determinable on lives not exceeding five. This measure met Grattan’s warmest approval.

The country was then in the most miserable condition—its trade fettered, and the Government, almost in a state of bankruptcy, obliged to borrow from La Touche’s Bank to sustain its credit.

Next year matters culminated in the Government declaring its inability to defend Ireland, and the Volunteers sprang into being.

Their support of the national party entirely altered the possibilities in Ireland.

Grattan, aided by Burgh and Daly, was enabled to press on measures for free trade; and the address on that question, carried in the Commons, was taken to the Castle through streets lined by the Volunteers.

The influence of the Ministers was paralyzed by the flood of generous enthusiasm that swept over the country, and Grattan’s motion on 24th November 1779, “That at this time it would be inexpedient to grant new taxes,” was carried by 170 to 47.

In December an Act was passed in the British Parliament permitting Ireland to export glass and woollen goods, and to trade with America, Africa, and the West Indies.

There were general illuminations through Ireland, and Government hoped the storm was over, while Grattan and his friends pushed on to further measures.

At county meetings, grand juries, and Volunteer associations, resolutions were passed claiming that Ireland should be bound only by her own laws, and demanding a modification of Poyning’s Act, and a repeal of 6 Geo. I., which declared the dependence of Ireland upon Great Britain.

Early in 1780, Grattan gave notice of his intention to move a Declaration of Rights, embodying these demands; while, on the other hand, in the House of Lords the Duke of Leinster carried an address to the King, expressing satisfaction with the concessions already made.

Grattan pressed on almost alone. Many of his friends were deterred by threats and blandishments; and Edmund Burke, applied to by the opponents of the Bill of Rights, wrote over:

“Will no one speak to this madman? Will no one stop this madman, Grattan?”

At this period Grattan lived much with his uncle, Colonel Marlay, who resided at Marlay Abbey on the Liffey, at Celbridge. He afterwards wrote:

“Along the banks of that river, amid the groves and bowers of Swift and Vanessa, I grew convinced that I was right; arguments unanswerable came to my mind, and what I then prepared confirmed me in my determination to persevere; a great spirit arose among the people, and the speech which I delivered afterwards in the House communicated its fire and impelled them on; the country caught the flame, and it rapidly extended. I was supported by eighteen counties, by the grand jury addresses and the resolutions of the Volunteers. I stood upon that ground, and was determined never to yield. I brought on the question the 19th April 1780. That was a great day for Ireland—that day gave her liberty.”

These resolutions were:

“That his most excellent Majesty, by and with the consent of the Lords and Commons of Ireland, are the only power competent to enact laws to bind Ireland: That the crown of Ireland is and ought to be inseparably annexed to the crown of Great Britain: That Great Britain and Ireland are inseparably united under one sovereign, under the common and indissoluble ties of interest, loyalty, and freedom.”

Although the decision upon them was postponed, the debate diffused a hopeful spirit through the country.

During the ensuing summer the Volunteers held imposing reviews in different parts of Ireland, at many of which Grattan and Charlemont were present, and received popular ovations.

The review in College-green, Dublin, in front of the Houses of Parliament, on 4th November, assumed a national character.

Yet through 1781 the Government managed [sic] kept up its opposition to the Irish measures of reform, and the only important result of the session was the passing of a Habeas Corpus Act.

On the 15th February 1782, 242 Volunteer delegates met at Dungannon, and passed resolutions drawn up by Grattan, Lord Charlemont, and Flood, embodying a declaration of Ireland’s right to self-government, and a resolution in favour of the relaxation of the Penal Laws.

Government by force in Ireland was now no longer possible.

Lord Carlisle was recalled, and the Duke of Portland sent over as Viceroy, with instructions to concede the popular demands as far as appeared necessary to allay the excitement into which the country was thrown.

Grattan and his friends urged on the question of independence.

They perceived that delay might be fatal—that the country might be discouraged, and the ardour of the Volunteers possibly cool down. They refused all the offers of place held out by the Government on condition of a temporizing policy. Grattan afterwards said:

“I was young and poor; I had scarcely £500 a year. Lord Charlemont was as poor as any peer, and I as any commoner. We were, however, determined to refuse office; and our opinion, and a just one, too, was that office in Ireland was different from office in England; it was not a situation held for Ireland, but held for an English government, often in collision with, and frequently hostile to, Ireland.”

Parliament met by adjournment on 16th April 1782. The streets were lined with the Volunteers. An address in favour of Grattan’s Declaration of Rights was carried enthusiastically. He concluded his speech on the occasion with the memorable words:

“I found Ireland on her knees; I watched over her with an eternal solicitude; I have traced her progress from injuries to arms, and from arms to liberty. Spirit of Swift! spirit of Molyneux! your genius has prevailed! Ireland is now a nation! In that new character I hail her! and, bowing in her august presence, I say, Esto perpetua."

On the 27th May the Viceroy announced the concurrence of the British legislature in the Irish resolutions, and Bills were immediately passed embodying the Declaration of Rights, a Mutiny Act, and the repeal of of Poyning’s Act, securing to the Irish House of Lords final judicature, and establishing freedom of election and the independence of the judges.

Grattan thereupon moved a grant of £100,000 and 20,000 men to the British navy, as an earnest of that good will and indissoluble connexion that he desired should subsist between the countries.

Congratulations poured in on all sides, and £100,000 was voted by a grateful country to Grattan for his services. With difficulty he was prevailed upon to accept half this amount.

In the course of the summer of 1782 Grattan married Henrietta FitzGerald, a descendant of the Desmond family. She was considered a great beauty, and the marriage proved a very happy one. Although her health was often infirm, she worthily sustained him and stood by him in all the difficulties of life.

With the parliamentary grant he bought an estate in the Queen’s County, at Moyanna, near Stradbally, while he fixed his permanent residence at Tinnehinch, near the Dargle, in the County of Wicklow, a spot to which he had been always passionately attached.

Grattan had indeed gained much for Ireland; but the seeds of future disaster lay in a corrupt system and an inadequate representation, by which Ministers still held control over the country.

The Catholics, who formed four-fifths of the people of Ireland, were wholly unrepresented—likewise the Nonconformists, half the remainder of the population.

Parliament in fact represented only the members of the Established Church, who formed but a small part of the nation. Out of the 300 members, 216 were returned for boroughs or manors. According to Mr. Lecky, 200 were elected by constituencies numbering but 100, and 50 by constituencies of only 10 voters each. Four noblemen virtually returned 46 members.

The pension list was actually greater than that of England: in 1793 it amounted to £124,000 per annum.

In the autumn of 1782 Grattan came into collision with Flood and the body of the Volunteers on the question of “simple repeal.”

He contended that it was ungenerous and distrustful not to be satisfied with the simple repeal of the statutes which had bound Ireland; while Flood held that Ireland’s liberties were insecure until a declaratory Act was passed by the British legislature, renouncing all control over Ireland in internal matters.

This controversy, followed up by Flood’s efforts to reduce the Irish contingent of the army, led to a rupture between the friends.

A night in October 1783 was made memorable by an explosion between them in the House of Commons, and a duel was happily interrupted. [See Flood, Henry.]

In the will made by Grattan before the meeting, he left back to the nation the £50,000 it had granted him, charged only with an annuity of £800 to his wife.

Next month Grattan voted in favour of Flood’s Reform Bill brought up from the Rotunda Convention; he also supported that brought forward by Flood in March 1784. He was, however, on the whole opposed to Flood’s policy of agitation outside the doors of Parliament, and for a time a coolness existed between him and Lord Charlemont, who inclined to support Flood.

Grattan put forth his powers in the session of 1784 chiefly in opposition to Orde’s commercial propositions, under which Ireland would have been in some matters necessarily subordinate to Great Britain. His prognostications as to the prosperity of the country in consequence of the reforms he had helped to bring about were amply justified.

Dublin increased rapidly in population and importance, and most of the great public buildings which adorn it were erected during the few years of parliamentary independence.

The session of 1786 passed over without any specially important measures.

In consequence of disturbances in the south, Grattan made an ineffectual effort in the session of 1787 to have some relief granted in the matter of tithes, and again, on 14th February 1788, he proposed that they should be commuted for a uniform tax of so much per acre on tillage.

He sketched the condition of the peasantry as deplorable, and spoke of the tithe war as “an odious contest between poverty and luxury—between the struggles of a pauper, and the luxury of a priest. … The whiteboy is the least of his foes; his great enemy is the precept of the Gospel, and the example of the Apostles.”

His opponent, the Attorney-General, pronounced this speech to be the most splendid display of eloquence the House ever heard.

Government, however, opposed all reform, and Grattan’s measure was rejected by 121 to 49 votes.

In consequence of Mrs. Grattan’s ill-health, he took her to England in the autumn of 1788. They sojourned at Bath for a time; and he visited London, where he had much intercourse with Fox and other English political friends.

Next February, in consequence of the insanity of George III., the Regency question came before the Irish Parliament.

The Prince of Wales had by the British Parliament been constituted Regent, with restricted powers, while in the Irish Parliament Grattan proposed that he should be entrusted with full regal authority.

The Government party insisted that Ireland should unhesitatingly follow the British precedent, FitzGibbon using the ominous words—“Government never could go on unless Ireland followed Great Britain implicity in all regulations of imperial policy.”

Grattan’s party, however, in spite of all opposition, obtained a majority, and the Lord-Lieutenant refusing to transmit their decision to London, Grattan, the Duke of Leinster, Lord Charlemont, and a few more were appointed to present it in person to the Prince of Wales.

The recovery of the King put an end to further complications, but the difference between the two Parliaments was afterwards used as a powerful argument in favour of a union.

Fifteen gentlemen, including the Duke of Leinster and the leading members of the Liberal party, holding offices to the amount of £20,000 a year, were dismissed for their votes on this occasion.

Whereupon fifty-five other members of the party signed an undertaking not to accept any of the vacant posts, or under any circumstances to support a Government persevering in its efforts to interfere with the prerogatives of Parliament.

On the other hand, FitzGibbon, Wolfe, Toler, Cooke, and a large number of Government partizans were promoted in the peerage or otherwise.

Government also divided many offices, and created new ones, so as still further to extend their patronage.

Before matters reverted into their old channel after the recovery of George III., Grattan was enabled to advocate and pass some beneficial measures—one disabling revenue officers from voting at elections, and another limiting the amount of pensions.

On 8th May 1789 he again, in a brilliant speech, unavailingly introduced the question of tithe reforms.

About this time Grattan, Charlemont, and several of their party, formed the Whig Club, which numbered among its members Curran, Lord Edward FitzGerald, and most of the Irish reform party, and for a short time its resolutions and meetings had an appreciable effect in stemming the torrent of corruption which was let loose upon the country.

In the session which opened 21st January 1790, Grattan drew attention to this matter of Government patronage; but his motion for a committee to inquire into corrupt practices was defeated by 144 to 88.

Grattan renewed the tithe question next session, and was again defeated by 117 to 56 votes. One great reform was, however, accomplished—a Catholic Relief Bill was passed, opening up the magistracy and the Bar, legalizing Catholic places of worship, and declaring Catholics eligible for certain offices in the state.

Grattan believed the passage of such reforms to afford the only hope of counteracting the “French principles” then rampant, which he so bitterly detested.

The session of 1793, that saw the passage of the important measure of Catholic relief detailed in the notice of Mr. Keogh, also witnessed the enactment of a severe Arms Act, and the Convention Act, which has ever since precluded the gathering of representative assemblies in Ireland.

When the Bill for this last measure was in committee, Grattan strenuously protested—declaring it to be a false declaration of the law, and that it deprived the subject of his constitutional right of petitioning effectually, by rendering impossible the previous organizations from which effective petitions had emanated. He declared himself especially indignant in that by implication it condemned all previous meetings of delegates that had taken place.

Government thenceforth consistently opposed further measures of reform, and the people drifted more and more into revolutionary plans.

There occurred, however, one singular episode, when for a brief period Government appeared inclined to alter its policy.

In December 1794 Lord Westmoreland was recalled, and Lord Fitzwilliam was sent over on 4th January 1795, with instructions to concede Catholic Emancipation. He was received with significant enthusiasm. Petitions poured in from the Catholics; and the majority of the Protestants were unquestionably then in favour of a large measure of relief.

In Parliament this feeling was fully reflected; extraordinary supplies were voted, and Grattan, though without official position, became virtually the leader of the Government. The French party almost entirely disappeared.

Leave was given, with but three dissentient voices, to bring in an Emancipation Bill; it was believed that a Reform Bill would follow; the whole Catholic population were eager with excitement; the Protestants were for the most part enthusiastically loyal.

One of the leaders of the United Irishmen afterwards declared that if these reforms had passed, their quarrel with England was at an end.

Such was the state of public feeling, when Fitzwilliam was peremptorily recalled on 19th March. Government, moved by the remonstrances of the Beresfords and several of its old supporters in the country, determined to revert to its accustomed policy. Thereupon addresses of condolence poured in upon Grattan, and at Fitzwilliam’s departure the shutters of the Dublin shops were put up, and crowds followed him to the wharf.

Lord Fitzwilliam vigorously protested against the Government thus going back on its contemplated liberal policy towards the Catholics, at a period “when the jealousy and alarm which certainly at the first period pervaded the minds of the Protestant body exist no longer—when not one Protestant corporation, scarcely an individual, has come forward to deprecate and oppose the indulgence claimed by the higher order of Catholics—when even some of those who were most alarmed in 1793, and were then the most violent opposers, declare the indulgences now asked to be only the necessary consequences of those granted at that time, and positively essential to secure the well-being of the two countries.”

At the swearing in of the new Lord-Lieutenant, Lord Clarendon, a serious riot occurred, which had to be quelled by the military. Denouncing in Parliament the conduct of Ministers, Grattan remarked:

“It is a matter of melancholy reflection to consider how little that cabinet knows anything relating to Ireland. Ireland is a subject it considers with a lazy contumely, and picks up here and there by accident or design interested and erroneous intelligence. … I reprobate that pernicious and profligate system and its abettors, which disgraced this country, and with them I deprecate its return.”

Such was the influence of Government that his motion for Catholic relief was now rejected by 158 to 48, and the only important measure of the session was the establishment of Maynooth College, with a grant of £8,000 a year.

The feelings between the Protestants and Catholics were embittered by a contest known as the “Battle of the Diamond,” between the rival factions in the north, and by the clearance of a number of Catholics out of Antrim and Down by their Protestant neighbours.

In the session of 1796, against the vehement protests of Grattan and Curran, a stringent Insurrection Act was passed.

A report of the Whig Club at this period gives a melancholy picture of the state of the poor and the condition of the country generally.

In October 1796 Parliament reassembled in consequence of the apprehension of French invasion. The suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act was enacted, and all measures of relief and reform were persistently opposed. Grattan wound up his speech in opposition to this policy with the words:

“I know not where you are leading me—from one strong Bill to another—until I see a gulf before me, at whose abyss I recoil. In it I see no safety—nothing but the absence of our dearest rights, the absence of the Habeas Corpus Act, the absence of civil liberty. Government have made it a question of passion as well as of power. Do you imagine there is any man who would prefer the wild schemes of republicanism to the sober blessings of the British Constitution, if he enjoyed them? What is the tree of liberty? It is sprinkled with the blood of kings and of nobles—some of the best blood of Europe; but if you force your fellow-subjects from under the hospitable roof of the constitution, you will leave them, like the weary traveller, at length to repose under the dreadful tree of liberty. Give them, therefore, a safe dwelling—the good old fabric of the constitution, with its doors open to the community.”

He made several similar protests in the session of 1797.

Matters went from bad to worse.

Addressing the ministers in Parliament, Grattan said:

‘You must subdue before you reform!’ Indeed, alas! you think so; but you forget you subdue by reforming: it is the best conquest you can obtain over your own people. But let me suppose you succeed—what is your success?—a military government—a perfect despotism—a hapless victory over the principles of a mild government and a mild constitution—a union—but what may be the ultimate consequences of such a victory?—a separation.”

On account of the manner in which the yeomen were encouraged, and their consequent excesses, Grattan withdrew from the mounted corps to which he belonged. He thus wrote to Lord Monck, the commander:

“It gives me great concern that the late determination of Government with respect to the people of Ireland should have been against measures of conciliation, and for measures of coercion and force. Such a determination makes it impossible for me to hold any military situation, however insignificant, under a government so disposed. If ever I am sent into actual service, it shall never be against my country.”

Then “finding that his exertions were no longer of any avail—that he could not support the measures of Government consistently with his duties or his feelings, nor oppose them with any hope of success; and unwilling by further opposition to countenance the United party, whose principles he entirely disapproved, he retired from Parliament altogether, declining to stand at the general election of 1797.”

Writing twenty years afterwards of this time, he said:

“Our error was in not having seceded sooner; for the opposition, I fear, encouraged the United men by their speeches against the Government. The Government were so abominable, their measures were so violent, that no man would sanction them. There was high treason certainly, but these were measures that no high treason, that no crimes could warrant. Nothing could excuse the torture, the whippings, the half-hanging; it was impossible to act with them; and in such cases it is always better that a neutral party should retire. We could do no good—we could not join the disaffected party, and we could not support the Government. We would not torture, we would not hold the lash, we would not flagellate. … They did not treat the people as if they were Christians, they treated them not like rebel Christians, but like rebel dogs; and afterwards when these men who had thus acted came to be tried at the Union, they sold themselves and their country; it was infamous. The question men should have asked was not, ‘Why was Mr. Sheares upon the gallows?’ but ‘Why was not Lord Clare along with him?’

At a meeting of the Bar held about this time, a series of resolutions were passed, condemning the conduct of Government, and declaring that an adequate reform would satisfy the country. It was signed by seventy-six gentlemen, amongst whom were Bagenal Harvey, Henry Sheares, Thomas Addis Emmet, and several who were afterwards, by the course of events, hurried into the rebellion.

There can be no greater proof of the implacable character of the government opposition to reform of any kind than the fact that Grattan’s name was then struck from the list of Privy Councillors, without any evidence to connect him even in sympathy with the designs of the revolutionary party. (His name was restored to the roll in 1806.)

Grattan, broken down in health and spirits, now retired to the country, and was induced by the entreaties of Mrs. Grattan and the advice of his physicians to spend most of the summer of 1798 in the south and west of England. During his absence his residence at Tinnehinch suffered severely at the hands of the yeomanry and troops.

The means by which the Union was pressed on after the Insurrection of 1798, until Grattan’s return to Parliament, belong more properly to the notices of Lord Clare, Lord Castlereagh, Lord Cornwallis, and to general history.

The following may be given from Grattan’s Life, by his son:

“All that could be accomplished by gold or by iron, by bribes or by threats, or by promises, was set in motion; every effort was strained to bring round those who were disinclined, to seduce those who were hostile but necessitous, to terrify the timid, and bear down the fearless and those who had at heart the interest and independence of their country. The doors of the Treasury were opened, and a deluge of corruption covered the land. The bench of bishops, the bench of judges, the bar, the revenue, the army, the navy, civil offices, military and naval establishments, places, pensions, and titles, were denied and prostituted for the purpose of carrying the great government object—this ill-omened Union.”

The country was overawed by 137,590 troops, yet 28 counties petitioned against the measure, 8 principal towns, 12 municipal corporations, Dublin and all the mercantile, manufacturing, and trading interests of the kingdom. Only 7,000 individuals petitioned in favour of a union, while 110,000 freeholders and 707,000 others signed against it.

The Catholics of Ireland generally were kept quiet by hints that a union would result in their speedy emancipation; while the Protestants were told that if the Union was not carried the English Parliament might leave them to be annihilated by the Catholic majority.

Able pamphlets teemed on both sides of the question. Duelling clubs for challenging opponents were established by both parties; and an effort was even made by Grattan’s friends to raise a fund for outbribing the Government.

In this state of affairs, at the end of 1799, Grattan returned to Tinnehinch, from the Isle of Wight, almost broken-hearted, not only hopeless but helpless—enfeebled in body, depressed in spirits, but still unsubdued in mind.

It was desirable he should re-enter Parliament when the session of 1800 opened. He expressed no desire in the matter himself, but Mrs. Grattan urged “that it was his duty; that he had got a great deal from the people; that he ought to spend his money and shed his blood in their defence.”

At length Mr. Grattan yielded, and was brought to Dublin. Being unable to bear any noise, he avoided hotels, and went to a friend’s house in Baggot-street. A vacancy occurred for the borough of Wicklow; through the friendly offices of the sheriff the election was held at midnight, and Grattan was elected, and a horseman was despatched to Dublin with the return.

Mrs. Grattan tells us what followed:

“He arrived in Dublin about five in the morning, when we heard a loud knocking at the door. Mr. Grattan had been very ill, and was then in bed, and turning round he exclaimed,‘Oh, here they come; why will they not let me die in peace?’ The question of Union had become dreadful to him; he could not bear the idea, or listen to the subject, or speak on it with any degree of patience; he grew quite wild, and it almost drove him frantic. I shall never forget the scene that followed. I told him he must get up immediately, and go down to the House: so we got him out of bed, and dressed him. I helped him down stairs; then he went into the parlour and loaded his pistols, and I saw him put them in his pocket, for he apprehended he might be attacked by the Union party, and assassinated. We wrapped a blanket round him, and put him in a sedan chair, and when he left the door I stood there, uncertain whether I should ever see him again. Afterwards, Mr. McCann came to me and said that I need not be alarmed, as Mr. Grattan’s friends had determined to come forward in case he was attacked, and if necessary take his place in the event of any personal quarrel. When I heard that, I thanked him for his kindness, but told him ‘My husband cannot die better than in defence of his country.’

This was the early morning of the 16th January 1800. Parliament had opened the previous evening; the question of the Union had at once come up, and had been opposed through the night by Plunket, FitzGerald, Arthur Moore, Ponsonby, and Bushe.

At seven o’clock Grattan entered the House, supported by Ponsonby and Moore. He was dressed in the Volunteer uniform—blue, with red cuffs and collar.

“The House and the galleries were seized with breathless emotion, and a thrilling sensation, a low murmur, pervaded the whole assembly, when they beheld a thin, weak, and emaciated figure, worn down by sickness of mind and body, scarcely able to sustain himself; the man who had been the founder of Ireland’s independence in 1782, was now coming forward, feeble, helpless, and apparently almost in his last moments, to defend or to fall with his country.”[154]

When Mr. Egan, who was speaking when he entered, ceased, Grattan rose, but obtained leave to address the house sitting, and delivered a speech of two hours’ duration, in which he went over the whole question.

But the Government carried the address embodying the question of Union by 138 votes to 96.

On 5th February Lord Castlereagh delivered a message to Parliament from the Lord-Lieutenant, recommending a union.

In the course of the debate Grattan said:

“Whether you will go, with the Castle at your head, to the tomb of Charlemont and the Volunteers, and erase his epitaph; or whether your children shall go to your graves, saying, ‘A venal military court attacked the liberties of the Irish, and here lie the bones of the honourable dead men who saved their country!’ Such an epitaph is an epitaph which the King cannot give his slaves; it is a glory which the crown cannot give the King.”

On this occasion Government secured 160 to 117 votes.

The complaints made in the House of the dispersion by the military of meetings to petition against the Union, were not denied by Toler, the Attorney-General.

On Friday, 17th February, the House went into committee on the Union Bill. In the course of debate, Corry made a personal attack on Grattan, which he repelled in a speech of surpassing eloquence.

Since his reply to Flood in 1783 nothing of that character had been heard in Parliament. Speaking of 1798, he said:

“The stronghold of the constitution was nowhere to be found. I agree that the rebel who rises against the Government should have suffered; but I missed on the scaffold the right honourable gentleman. Two desperate parties were in arms against the constitution. The right honourable gentleman belonged to one of these parties and deserved death. I could not join the rebels; I could not join the Government; I could not join torture; I could not join half-hanging; I could not join free quarter; I could take part with neither. I was therefore absent from a scene where I could not be active without self-reproach, nor indifferent with safety. Many honourable gentlemen thought differently from me. I respect their opinions, but I keep my own; and I think now, as I thought then, that the treason of the Minister against the liberties of the people was infinitely worse than the rebellion of the people against the Minister.”

The Government after this debate had 161 votes to 140.

A duel between Grattan and Corry was inevitable. James Blackwood (Lord Dufferin) offered to be Grattan’s second. The opponents met at Ball’s-bridge. The sheriff appeared, but was held down in a ditch until the affair was over. At the second discharge Corry was wounded.

Notwithstanding lavish bribery and corruption, Government appear still to have entertained some apprehensions of final failure; and Lord Cornwallis speaks of their party in general being “but cold and languid friends.”

On 4th March George Ponsonby brought forward a motion of address to his Majesty against the Union, showing the state of public feeling in the country against the measure. This proposal was defeated by 155 to 107.

To strengthen the hands of Government, further stringent Insurrection Bills were passed. The Irish Militia were also sent to England, and their places filled by English regiments.

On the 25th March the report of the committee in favour of a Union was brought up and passed.

On the 26th the Union Bill was read a second time and passed by 117 to 73.

Grattan wound up his final protest against the measure in these words:

“Yet I do not give up the country; I see her in a swoon, but she is not dead. Though in her tomb she lies helpless and motionless, still there is on her lips a spirit of life, and on her cheek a glow of beauty.

‘Thou art not conquered; beauty’s ensign yet

Is crimson on thy lips and in thy cheeks,

And death’s pale flag is not advanced there.’

While a plank of the vessel sticks together, I will not leave her. Let the courtier present his flimsy sail, and carry the light bark of his faith with every new breath of wind—I will remain anchored here, with fidelity to the fortunes of my country, faithful to her freedom—faithful to her fall!”

Further resistance was vain—as Grattan expressed it, “Finding all useless, we retired with safe consciences, but with breaking hearts.”

On 7th June the Bill was read a third time; on the 12th, it passed the House of Lords, and on 1st August received the royal assent.

A similar Bill, passed in the British House of Lords on 24th June, had received the royal assent on 2nd July.

After the Union, Grattan for a time gave up politics and retired to Tinnehinch, where he devoted himself to country pursuits, to study, and the education of his children.

He could not speak with tranquillity on the subject of the Union; at one time he would start as if seized with frenzy; at another he would remain musing and melancholy; or if he ventured to speak on the subject, his eyes would fill with tears. He continued, however, to keep up close intimacy and correspondence with his political friends.

After Emmet’s emeute, and in consequence of continued reports of French intrigues in Irish affairs, Grattan offered his services to Government, and raised a yeomanry corps on his estate—for the first time in that part of the country, enrolling Catholics.

In 1805, at the earnest solicitation of Lord Fitzwilliam and Mr. Fox, he consented to enter the Imperial Parliament, with the hope of being able to forward the Catholic claims. He sat for a short time for an English borough—Malton—and from 1806 represented Dublin.

His return was often severely contested, and the elections generally entailed very great expense.

In one of his first speeches in the Imperial Parliament, he digressed into a eulogium on the extinct Irish Parliament, and uttered those words so famous for their touching and concentrated beauty—“I watched by its cradle; I followed its hearse.”

The Irish members of his party ever addressed him in Parliament as “Sir,” with the same respect as they addressed the Speaker.

He devoted himself almost exclusively to the cause of Catholic Emancipation, not hesitating on occasions to incur unpopularity in Ireland in the advocacy of measures he deemed necessary—as in 1807, when he voted for a new Insurrection and Arms Act; in 1818, when he was mobbed and stoned in Dublin for declining to support the repeal of the window tax; and again, when he forfeited the confidence of the Catholic Committee, by refusing to present a petition which contained claims he considered extravagant and unwise.

His opposition to the policy of the Union ever continued unshaken. In answer to an application from a meeting held in the Exchange, Dublin, in September 1810, that he should support a repeal of the Union, he wrote:

“I shall present their petitions, and support the repeal of the Act of Union, with a decided attachment to our connexion with Great Britain, and to that harmony between the two countries, without which the connexion cannot last. I do not impair either, as I apprehend, when I assure you that I shall support the repeal of the Act of Union. You will please to observe that a proposition of that sort in Parliament, to be either prudent or possible, must wait until it shall be called for and backed by the nation.”

Again, late in life, speaking of the change to his friend, Mr. Burrowes, he said:

“The people take no interest in the Imperial Parliament; it is too far, and its remedies too late. … The Union has sunk the country. Ireland held up her head formerly, but she is now a beggar at the door of Great Britain.”

Then striking his forehead, he exclaimed, as in anguish:

“There is no thinking of it: but these countries from their size must stand together—united quoad nature—distinct quoad legislation.”

During his residence in London he enjoyed the society of a large circle of such men as Wilberforce and Rogers, and was especially happy at Holland House, where he was greatly beloved and esteemed.

His magnanimity never shone out more strongly than on occasions when he defended Lord Castlereagh, his bitterest opponent concerning the Union, from what he considered the unjust attacks of his own party.

The autumn of 1819 he resided with his family for a time at Luggelaw, and on his return to Tinnehinch complained of difficulty of breathing. In December these symptoms increased, and he consulted Mr. Crampton. His mind appeared singularly active, and his conversation as brilliant and fresh as ever.

At the election that followed George III.’s death in 1820, Grattan was, on 16th March, returned without opposition, but was too weak to appear on the hustings.

He spoke calmly of the state of his health, and quoted Caesar’s wish for “a short death, and unexpected.”

Speaking of Ireland he said:

“To keep alive the spirit of liberty, a man must belong to some country: here there is no country—England is not our country; it will take a century before she becomes so.”

Again, he remarked:

“What a pleasing reflection it is for me, that I have taken an independent part through life. I can look back without reproach. I know what I have done, and what others have not done: it is a great consolation, a second immortality.”

On 12th May, having rallied a little, he visited Dublin, and received a deputation from the Catholic Association, headed by O’Connell.

Although it was evident that his end was near, he adhered to his determination of going to London to make a final appeal for the Catholics in Parliament, and sailed from Dublin on 20th May. The quays were lined with crowds to bid him farewell, and just as the vessel began to move, he asked for a glass of wine, and drank to the health of the citizens of Dublin.

From Liverpool the fatigue of land travelling was more than he could bear, and with extreme difficulty he was conveyed by canal in an open boat, fitted up with matting and canvas cover.

On 31st May he arrived in London; but mortification had set in, and there was an end to any hope of his being able to appear in Parliament, although the Speaker of the House of Commons offered to give up his apartments to him.

As the end approached he said, “Tell the Catholics if I cannot speak, I can pray for them. I shall then die contented.”

Again, to his daughter:

“My life, my love, God gave me talents to be of use to my country, and if I lose my life in her service, it is a good death.”

“He lingered for a few days,” says Mr. Lecky, “retaining to the last his full consciousness and interest in public affairs. Those who gathered round his death-bed observed with emotion how fondly and how constantly his mind reverted to that legislature which he had served so faithfully and had loved so well. It seemed as though the forms of its guiding spirits rose more vividly on his mind as the hour approached when he was to join them in another world; and, among the last words he is recorded to have uttered, we find a warm and touching eulogium of his great rival, Flood, and many glowing recollections of his fellow-labourers in Ireland.”

He expressed a strong desire to be buried at his estate of Moyanna; but being somewhat importuned, and it being represented to him that there was a general wish that he should rest in Westminster, he at length feebly whispered, “Well, Westminster Abbey.”

He drew up a paper containing his last desire—that Ireland should not seek for other connexion than with Great Britain; that Great Britain should help to repeal the civil and political disabilities of the Catholics. Nearly his last words were:

“I die with a love of liberty in my heart, and this declaration in favour of my country in my hand.”

He passed away at six o’clock on the morning of the 4th June 1820, aged 73. That day forty years the Volunteers had presented him an address for his assertion of the liberties of Ireland.

He was buried in the north transept of Westminster Abbey.

His person is thus described:

“Grattan was short in stature, and unprepossessing in appearance. His arms were disproportionably long: his walk was a stride. With a person swaying like a pendulum, and an abstracted air, he seemed always in thought, and each thought provoked an attendant gesticulation. Such was the outward and visible form of one whom the passenger would stop to stare at as a droll, and the philosopher to contemplate as a study. How strange it seems that a mind so replete with grace and symmetry, and power and splendour, should have been allotted such a dwelling for its residence. Yet so it was, and so also was it one of his highest attributes, that his genius by its excessive light, blinded the hearer to his physical infirmities. It was the victory of mind over matter—the man was forgotten in the orator.”

Mr. Lecky says of the brilliant oratory by which Grattan had effected so much for his country:

“It is curious that Grattan, who was so sensible to the advantages of a graceful delivery in others, should have been always remarkable for the extreme singularity and awkwardness of his own. Byron, who otherwise admired his speaking exceedingly—

‘With all that Demosthenes wanted endowed,

And his rival or victor in all he possessed’—

called it a ‘harlequin manner.’

O’Connell said that he nearly swept the ground with his gestures, and the motion of his arms has been compared to the rolling of a ship in a heavy swell. … The eloquence of Grattan, in his best days, was in some respects, perhaps, the finest that has been heard in either country since the time of Chatham.

Considered simply as a debater, he was certainly inferior to both Fox and Pitt, and, perhaps, to Sheridan; but he combined two of the very highest qualities of a great orator to a degree that was almost unexampled.

No British orator except Chatham had an equal power of firing an educated audience with an intense enthusiasm, or of animating and inspiring a nation. No British orator except Burke had an equal power of sowing his speeches with profound aphorisms, and associating transient questions with eternal truths.

His thoughts naturally crystallized into epigrams; his arguments were condensed with such admirable force and clearness that they assumed almost the appearance of axioms; and they were often interspersed with sentences of concentrated poetic beauty, which flashed upon the audience with all the force of sudden inspiration, and which were long remembered and repeated.

Some of his best speeches combined much of the value of philosophical dissertations with all the charm of the most brilliant declamation. I know, indeed, none in modern times, except those of Burke, from which the student of politics can derive so many profound and valuable maxims of political wisdom, and none which are more useful to those who seek to master that art of condensed energy of expression in which he almost equalled Tacitus. … His speeches show no wit, and no skill in the lighter forms of sarcasm; but he was almost unrivalled in crushing invective, in delineation of character, and in brief, keen arguments. … There was a certain transparent simplicity and rectitude of purpose, a manifest disinterestedness, a fervid enthusiasm of patriotism in his character, which added greatly to the effect of his eloquence, and gave him an ascendency that was exercised by none of his contemporaries in Ireland.”

Grattan’s children were: (1) James, an officer in the army, who served in the Peninsula and at Waterloo, was born in 1783, and died 24th October 1854. He was member for Wicklow for twenty years. His widow, Lady Laura Maria Grattan, still (1877) resides at Tinnehinch. (2) Henry, born 1789, died in 1859. He was member for Dublin from 1826 to 1831, and for Meath from 1832 to 1851. He left a large family. (3) Harriett, married in 1836, to Rev. R. W. Wake. (4) Mary Anne, married, first, John Blatchford, and, secondly, in 1834, the Earl of Carnwath. She died in 1853.

Grattan’s Memoirs by his son Henry were completed in 5 vols. 8vo. in 1846. The work is not alone a history of the man but of the country during his lifetime; and read in conjunction with the biographies of Lords Cornwallis and Castlereagh, gives perhaps the clearest view that can be obtained of that important epoch in Irish history.


96. Curran and his Contemporaries: Charles Phillips. Edinburgh, 1850.

141. Froude, James A.: The English in Ireland in the Eighteenth Century. 3 vols. London, 1872–’4.

154. Grattan Henry, his Life and Times: Henry Grattan. 5 vols. London, 1839–’46.

173. Ireland, History of, from the Treaty of Limerick to the Present Time. John Mitchel. 2 vols. Dublin, 1869.

212. Leaders of Public Opinion in Ireland—Swift, Flood, Grattan, and O’Connell: William E. H. Lecky. First and Second Editions. London, 1861–’71.
Lecky, William E. H., see No. 212.

237. Maxwell, William H., Rebellion of 1798. London, 1845.

331. United Irishmen, their Lives and Times: Robert R. Madden, M.D. 4 vols. London, 1858–’60.