Fugitive Pieces in Verse and Prose. By William Drennan, M. D. Belfast: F. D. Finlay, 1815.
AGAINST AN UNION BETWEEN GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND.
Whereas, it has been deemed expedient, for the purpose of consolidating the executive power of the empire, and of meeting the temporary exigencies of the state, to extinguish the Irish constitution, and to abolish the legislative independence of this kingdom, immediately, totally, and for ever; I do think, that every Irishman, without regard to his rank or significance in life, while contemplating that common insignificance which is about to level all rank and station into the same low and despicable equality; every Irishman, without regard to a difference in the colours of party, or the rights of religion, who worships the same God, and is born and bred in the same land; every Irishman, without being awed by power, seduced by reward, or scared by ridicule, is summoned, at this extremity, not merely by honour or interest, but by the urgency of self-preservation; not merely by motives of personal or social duty, but by the sacred responsibility we are under to posterity; which, although not to be bound by our bondage, will suffer, for a time at least, the penalty of our errors and our crimes; every Irishman is called upon by every predominant duty, human or divine, every tie of the heart, from the grave of his ancestors to the cradle of his children, to record his public Protest against this surrender of his native country; causeless, totally ineffectual for its pretended purposes, without the possibility of adequate compensation, and were it possible, without even the shadow of a guarantee, to sanction and establish the conditions of the agreement.
I do, therefore, with my whole heart, and understanding, PROTEST against an Union of Ireland with Great Britain, thus desiring to grow greater by the absorption of my native country; a country which, by nature, habit, education, virtuous pride, honourable ambition, by my hopes for its happiness, and even my sacrifices for its welfare, has been rendered very dear to me; and at the same time wondering exceedingly, that men of superior talents and approved patriotism, who raised their hearts, their voices, their arms, and their country, to the elevated prospects of the year 1782, should close the century so ingloriously, and not lift at least the naked hand against a blow which must annihilate Ireland--to be known in future only as a sound in the title of the sovereign; wondering that it is left for such as me to say, I, notwithstanding, do say.
In the first place, that there is not upon the earth a rightful power competent to such a measure--not the parliament, who were neither empowered to dispose of the trust, much less of the trustees--not even the people themselves, who have not the right to chaffer for their country, or to barter away their birthdom. Our country is, by right divine, entailed to the last posterity; not to be docked by any fiction of law, not to be abrogated by any disuse; not to be curtailed by any self-made state necessity; not to be defeated by any decipiency of the present generation. Were the whole people of Ireland to be penned in the Curragh of Kildare, and, as sheep follows sheep, man should leap after man, in pursuit of an Union; I certainly should think the Cappadocians a nobler people, who slighted the proffer of freedom, than those who first tasted, and then parted with the blessing; but I should not on that account think the parties more competent to make such a compact, or the compact in itself more valid. It is void, ab initio. It has neither moral nor political virtue; and Adam might as well have assigned over the whole world in a lease of 1800 years to the Serpent, as, in the year 1800, the representatives of the people, who themselves are but trustees, could condition such a surrender of indefeasible rights and claims of posterity. The right of country is paramount to any human legislature.
I protest against this measure, in the second place, because it despoils the people of their Country; and Country I consider to be the great and virtuous spring and incitement to every thing generous in speculation, or magnanimous in action. With a consciousness of this sentiment, a man becomes capable of every thing good or great; without it, he loses much more than half his value in the estimation of others, and even in his own: and a people, in losing their country, lose that cementing principle which gives them the character and courage of a nation. They lose--what do they retain? They become a mere number, not a nation; without any inherent principle or motive of common action, unattached to each other, degraded in their own eyes, contemptible and contemned, they degenerate into the infamous and contented subjects of mockery or maltreatment, as it suits the humour of their masters. I do lament, that confidence, the life-blood of a public body, which ought to circulate through all ranks and conditions, has so long fled from among us; I lament, that we have not yet been able to become members of the same body, having the same friends and the same foes; that the fidelity of the lower people to each other, has not as yet been converted into fidelity to the state; and that the loyalty of the upper people should continue so replete with aristocratical arrogance, and political as well as religious intolerance, joined with the extreme of political servility. When look at the names of so many Irishmen renouncing their country, in the public prints, and, with prone obsequiousness, filling up the lists presented to them by the civil or military agents of corruption, I shudder at the prostitution of internal principle and conviction. Nevertheless, I think I see an underworking of common sense, and natural affection, which, in spite of factionary fury, and personal selfishness, must, in no long time, generate from the present disorder, a commonweal; a constitution, the best practical education for any people; and a country blest in the right administration of righteous laws, and respected abroad by paying proper respect to itself--unless this national Incorporation, and entire Union, should be counteracted and broken up, by giving another country the keeping of our affections, our interests, and our understandings. And I do more than suspect, it has been the foreboding of such an Union, so truly auspicious to the present and future interests of Ireland, and a presentiment of the difficulty of holding the higher orders and authorities, as at present constituted, much longer in the trammels of influence, which has made the British minister substitute in place of this expensive and unavailing system, his summary and simple system, which consolidates the executive power, while it scatters the country into dust. By birth, breeding, and bigotry, a Briton, he fears that the Irish infant of 82 may come to maturity;--and he would stifle it in the cradle. He fears the natural developement of its capacities and its powers. He fears, that political and religious schism, that White-Boyism, Defenderism, Presbyterianism, Catholicism, United-Irishism, may, gradually, yet not slowly, change into Patriotism, the conspiration of the universal people for their own good; and to avert this Imperial evil, he wishes, as soon as he can, to expatriate our parliament, to suck into the vortex of venality all the genius, and all the literature of Ireland, all the propertied community which must have assimilated with the mass of popular opinion, and thus have made basis for a free and proud public to fix its foot upon. He would remove the aliment for personal and professional ambition, and after thus impoverishing the soil, and exhausting it of all its generous juices, he would then begin to cultivate with the harrow, and to bleach with the beetling-engine. I do, therefore, protest against a measure which turns Ireland into a headless and heartless trunk, annihilates its rights, and withers its capacities and prospects.
He is a mean man who thinks meanly of his country. I do not think our geographical situation so neglected by Providence, our climate so frigid, our soil so infertile, our minds so stolid, that we could very long have been secreted from the world, and from ourselves; nor do I think that we should have continued so long in such an outcast condition, had Ireland met with the fair play which nature, humanity, and just policy allowed her. Long since would she have cast off the slough of barbarism, and shown a smooth, fair and florid civilization. But now, when the name and nature of country begin to agitate and interest the public mind; when there begin to appear a judgment and a taste for that self-government, without which neither individual nor public body can enjoy freedom or happiness, to take this country just emerging from the oblivious pool, and awakening to life and recollection, and then to plunge it, again and for ever, into the same filth of neglect, infamy, and abandonment, what shall I say of such an assassinating measure? say!
I declare, in the third place, that this measure will indefinitely increase the influence of the crown, to a degree most assuredly incompatible with the liberty of the subject; while the mock and miserable representative of the country in another parliament, will, like that of Scotland, serve only to countenance a plan of government, which must break the seal of social security, and place general liberty, the industry of the poor, and the property of the rich, under the arbitrament of the British cabinet. Better would it become the people of both countries, to recollect how much their political constitutions have approximated to the nature and effects of a military government, during the course of a war indefinite in its principles, its purposes, and its period; and so to have acted, that when peace did arrive, (if ever it should break through such gloomy ambiguity,) it might arrive with healing under its wings; with amnesty and reconcilement; with the discipline, not of the camp, but of the good old British constitution; with prerogative limited, and a privileged people. Better would it have become you, Britons! by vindicating our rights as a nation, to secure you own--and you, Irishmen! by rendering peace the prolific parent of public credit, and domestic comfort, to set up your native country in the closet of kings, in the conscience of ministers, in the market of the world, than to have blotted the public prints with wretched and ignominious names, thus pilloried to the last posterity. I speak only to your assumption of political character, assentive to, or applausive of an Union--with many of you, the first time, and with most of you, the last time, of declaring yourselves Irishmen! I do say, that the majority of such subscribers, however elevated in rank, or by their property, are, in my eyes, despicable and dishonourable citizens; and as to the sincere and well-intentioned few, they are entitled to pity, but can never be rescued from contempt.
For these three reasons, as good, if not better than three hundred, to be valued only by their number, do I express, as one of the Irish people, my fixed abhorrence, and my instinctive antipathy, against this legislative and incorporating Union, that takes away the body, as well as soul of the Irish people. As to the mercantile effects of the measure, were I competent to the discussion of the little question, I should disdain to meddle with it. Wo to the man, and to the million, who are willing, or are able to calculate the profit or the loss resulting from the sale of their country! The man must have the heart of a huxter, and the million must be destined to wander, like Jews, over the earth, without the honour or happiness of a home. But it is contrary to the nature of things, and to human nature, that either capital or speculation should ever fix their choice upon a land where there was no political liberty, and, of consequence, no personal security; where virtue, talent, and property had expatriated; where all the regular distinctions of rank in society had resolved into mob, or military; and where the compelling power had drawn every thing of use or ornament in the country, to the central point of the empire.
It has been said, and well said, that men become slaves from not knowing how to pronounce the monosyllable, No. Against this disastrous and most unrighteous measure, with my whole soul and strength do I utter it--NO! And if, from ignorance, from pique, from apathy, from infatuation, or from corruption, my countrymen become accessary to the destruction of their own liberties, and their countrys character, and do not reiterate, without ceasing, the same unqualified negative, then adieu to IRELAND--to the mercy and justice of God is she left, and to the hearts and hands of Posterity!
Dublin, Marlborough-street, Jan. 6, 1800.