Gladstone and the Irish Nation

By J. L. Hammond | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
PITT'S LEGACY

Gladstone, brooding over the tragedy of Khartoum, reflected that the greatest mistakes in politics were often the most excusable. He instanced, besides his Government's fatal choice of Gordon for the Sudan, Pitt's quarrel with revolutionary France. The destruction of the Irish Parliament in 1800 falls for many minds into the same category. England had passed through a terrible danger. The Irish rebellion of 1798 had followed on the French attempt to invade Ireland in 1796, an attempt that had been defeated by the storms of the sea. Fortune might not always be so benevolent and England, it might be argued, might find herself one day attacked by a French Army, using as its base an Ireland more hostile to England than to England's enemies. Was not the Union the surest way of averting this danger?

Lecky, after the most dispassionate discussion, concluded that Pitt was wrong, that England had for the time complete security in the temper of the Irish Parliament, and that both countries stood to gain by delay.1 But Pitt was the prisoner of his fears. What if the Irish Parliament, obeying the advice of Liberals like Fox in England and Grattan in Ireland, should admit Catholics? Pitt was afraid both of the Presbyterian Radicals of the North and the Catholic peasants. So long as those discontented elements were divided by religion, England was secure. But concessions might remove that quarrel and lead to a combination against English power. In fear of such combination he had used to the full the power of intrigue and management that had been left to English Ministers by the settlement of 1782, giving the Irish Parliament legislative independence. The

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1
Ireland in the eighteenth century, v. 418

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