The Navigation Acts of 1651, 1660 and 1663, as well as the later Sugar and Molasses Acts (1724, 1733, 1754), forbad the import of products on board of non-English ships to England and forbad colonies to trade directly between themselves. Any imports from another colony had to go via England – and pay customs dues. The origin of the complaints of Bostonians about tea, that was the starting signal for the American Revolutionary War, can be recognised. Ireland was similarly affected (doc. A et doc. B).
National preference reduced to the absurd
As a reaction to the laws forbidding the export of Irish products, deemed rivals for English trade, Swift imagined national preference for clothes and furniture suggesting rejecting anything coming from England in a pamphlet : Proposal for the universal use of Irish manufacture (doc. C). As it was forbidden to export their products, Ireland should produce what it consumed. Since one of its riches was its population, SWIFT, in hyperbolic satirical flight, wrote his famous pamphlet Modest Proposal (1730) (doc. D), “preventing the children of poor people from being a burthen to their parents or the country, and for making them beneficial to the publicks”, suggesting cannibalism as a remedy.
Ireland’s similarity with American colonies
Born in Dublin, Edmund Burke (1729-1797) was MP for the English districts of Wendover and Bristol and partisan of American colonies asking for more freedom and less taxes. He pleaded in favour of free trade with Ireland AND civil and political rights for the Catholics in the 1770’s (doc. E, p. 78-81). BURKE, in answer to the pamphlet The State of the Nation published in support of Lord GRENVILLE (Prime Minister 1763-1765) who tried to cut public spending and find new sources of revenue after the Seven Years’ War, denounced the use of the American colonies and Ireland as a source of income for the Crown. He foresaw that “First, a fire is already kindled by this scheme of taxation in America; he then proposes one which will set all Ireland in a blaze ; and his way of quenching both is by a plan which may kindle perhaps ten times a greater flame in Britain.” (1769). John Lord SHEFFIELD also observed in 1785 that “Ireland, in truth, had infinitely more cause for complaint, and had been infinitely more oppressed, than America; the latter had never submitted to half the hurtful restrictions in which the other had for many years quietly acquiesced (…)” (doc. F, p. 362-363).
More and more commentators drew political conclusions concerning the economic situation of Ireland. In 1753, an anonymous handout recommending « cut[ting] down the tree at its roots » (doc. G, p. 48) denounced the power to decide in place of the Irish Parliament where the taxes collected by customs in Ireland would go, thus making the Irish “bankruptcies and beggars”. Later, others denounced « A scheme against the prosperity of Ireland » (1779) [FD 1940 p.22] while the manner in which Ireland governed thus was questioned: Guatimozin’s letters on the present state of Ireland, and the right of binding it by British acts of parliament (1779) (doc. H).
Arthur YOUNG cannot end his description of Ireland (land, classes, agriculture, food, housing) in 1775-77 without mentioning the customs of the landed squires under the heading ‘Oppression’:
” a long series of oppressions, aided by many very ill-judged laws, have brought landlords into a habit of exerting a very lofty superiority, and their vassals into that of an almost unlimited submission: speaking a language that is despised, professing a religion that is abhorred and being disarmed, the poor find themselves in many cases slaves even in the bosom of written liberty. (…) A landlord in Ireland can scarcely invent an order which a servant, labourer, or cottar dares to refuse to execute. Nothing satisfies him but an unlimited submission. Disrespect, or anything tending towards sauciness, he may punish with his cane or his horsewhip with the most perfect security; a poor man would have his bones broke if he offered to lift his hands in his own defence. Knocking-down is spoken of in the country in a manner that makes an Englishman stare. ” (doc. I, p. 80).
The book, published in French in 1799-1800, demonstrates French interest in Irish affairs – possibly as the weak flank of their major commercial rival and enemy.