Giving the Irish a say in the affairs of the Kingdom
To solve economic and political problems, the idea of uniting both parliaments was proposed as early as the middle of the 18th Century (doc. A, p. 4-5), which meant abrogating the Dublin Parliament and sending 100 Irish MPS to Westminster. It was argued that Irish interests would thus be better represented in parliamentary debates and that measures voted in London could no longer be fought against by the Irish.
An economic driving force
The advantages of such a scheme would also be financial, for, if Irish trade could profit from the Union, Malachy POSTLETHWAYT proposed to share the benefits of it too (1757) (doc. B, p. 275-276). Reverend CLARKE’s Political, commercial, and civil, state of Ireland (doc. C, p. 48-49) argues in favour of a political union between Ireland and England. He describes the extreme poverty of the Irish people and praises the benefits of industry and exportations, which could lead to demographic growth.
Ireland and the emerging disciplines : political economy and demography
Like authors before him – starting with, William PETTY (1664), and including Arthur YOUNG (1779), – CLARKE tries to explain the low population density in Ireland (4 million) compared to England, by potato growing, rents, low salaries and emigration. He appears to be echoing demographic principles published by Thomas MALTHUS the previous year (doc. D).
Reflections on the state of Ireland cannot have been ignored in the genesis of the ideas contributing to the birth of these two new sciences, must surely have influenced the theories elaborated. In reverse, the theories contributed to the debates on Ireland. The basis for statistics, or “political arithmetick”, were established by William PETTY, who having surveyed Irish and English possessions, (1664) [FD 378], made more general considerations (doc. F). CLARKE quotes Adam SMITH (doc. G) and Josiah TUCKER (doc. H) to serve his arguments.
The copy of the book in the Dubois collection (doc. I) by the chaplain to the Prince of Wales, boasts an inscription “to the Lord Bishop of LLANDAFF with the compliments of Dr Clarke”. The Bishop of LLANDAFF, Richard Watson, (1737-1816), was Professor of Chemistry and Theology at the University of Cambridge. The Bishop was against the French Revolution and in favour of the Established Anglican Church, opposing the arguments of people like Thomas Paine who saw it as a symbol of intolerance and privilege.
Paradoxically, in view of the inscription, this work defends a pro-union thesis, arguing that Dublin should not have a monopoly on the proceeds of trade to the detriment of the rest of the country. For him the Union was going to free Ireland from a corrupt political class. Using trade statistics, he underlines the advantages brought by the Union of England and Scotland in 1707 in order to demonstrate the same impact could happen in Ireland. The ideas set out by the Royal Chaplain that free trade and political liberty went hand in hand must have seemed a curious combination for the Bishop.
Preventing further rebellions
After the 1798 rebellion by the United Irishmen who had the support of French troops, the repressive measures were brutal (so too were they in England where members of the “Corresponding” societies were arrested as early as 1794). The British government tried to appease the situation immediately afterwards. The Union was going to be a means against the risks of rebellious movements. CLARKE, and LLANDAFF, favorable to the status quo, were outspoken against the French Revolution, like Edmund BURKE, the author of Reflections on the French Revolution (French translation : doc. J) and his Three Memories on the affairs of France (French translation, 1797 : doc. K]) and the British Prime Minister William PITT (1759-1806).
Counter-argumentsOthers argued that sending political decision-makers away from Ireland could only lead to unfair decisions and that the British Majority would serve its own interests first (doc. L). While Arthur YOUNG reported in the late-1770s that “In conversation upon the subject of a union with Great Britain, I was informed that nothing was so unpopular in Ireland as such an idea; and that the great objection to it was increasing the number of absentees. When it was in agitation, twenty peers and sixty commoners were talked of to sit in the British Parliament, which would be the resi-dent of eighty of the best estates in Ireland. Going every year to England would, by degrees, make them residents; they would educate their children there, and in time become mere absentees, […] which would, they think, be so great a drain to Ireland, that a free trade would not repay it.” (Ireland, p.29)
The Act of Union (1800) creates the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
This piece of legislation, allowed one hundred Irish Members of Parliament to take their seats in the House of Commons, and thirty-two Peers and four Anglican Bishops in the House of Lords. The new British “Union Flag”, which incorporated St Patrick’s cross, symbolized the Union. It was the end of the Irish Parliament, which in the 18th Century had become a tool for the Ascendency. The Union is considered as the first step in the expansion of the British Empire through the 19th Century. It did not however end the economic, social and political ills, the works in this collection are witness to, and which would lead to an even greater calamity in the following century, the Great Famine (1846-1851).