The story of the Union has been told and retold in the utmost detail throughout the century. The present writer has attempted quite recently to summarise it, and there is little to add. The charge that it was carried by corruption is simply another way of saying that it had, constitutionally, to be passed through the Dublin Parliament, that body which, from the days of Swift’s invective to those of its final condemnation, lived and moved and had its being solely in and by corruption. As Lord Castlereagh, who had charge of the Bill in the Irish House of Commons, put it, the Government was forced to recognise the situation and its task was “to buy out and secure to the Crown forever the fee simple of Irish corruption, which has so long enfeebled the power of Government and endangered the connection.”
The Irish Parliament had run its course, and had involved the unhappy country in chaos, bankruptcy, revolution, and bloodshed. Lord Clare—a late and reluctant convert to the policy of the Union—said in the Irish House of Lords (Feb. 10, 1800)—
“We have not three years of redemption from bankruptcy, intolerable taxation, nor one hour’s security against the renewal exterminating civil war. Session after session have you been compelled to enact laws of unexampled rigour and novelty to repress the horrible excesses of the mass of your people: and the fury of murder and pillage and desolation have so outrun all legislative exertions that you have been at length driven to the hard necessity of breaking down the pale of municipal law, and putting your courage under the ban of military government—and in every little circle of dignity and independence we hear whispers of discontent at the temperate discretion with which it is administered.... Look to your civil and religious dissensions. Look to the fury of political faction and the torrents of human blood that stain the face of your country, and of what materials is that man composed who will not listen with patience and good will to any proposition that can be made to him for composing the distractions and healing the wounds and alleviating the miseries of this devoted nation?”
Lord Clare’s words—unanswered and unanswerable then and now—constitute a sufficient comment on the foolish fable of later invention, that Ireland was a land of peace and harmony, of orderly government and abounding prosperity, when a wicked English minister came and “stole away the Parliament House”—since which all has been decay and desolation. The halcyon period is generally made to coincide with that of “Grattan’s Parliament”—of the semi-independent and quite unworkable Constitution of 1782, which had been extorted from England’s weakness when Ireland was denuded of regular troops, and at the mercy of a Volunteer National Guard, when Cornwallis had just surrendered at Yorktown, and Spain and France were once more leagued with half Europe for the destruction of the British Empire.