British History - Ireland, 1782–1800 - Grattan - The United Irishmen - The ' ninety-eight' - The Union - End of Pitt's long Ministry - India under Cornwallis and Wellesley.
( Originally Published 1922 )
THROUGHOUT the war with the French Republic, England had been hampered by her ' broken arm.'
Few countries of the ancien régime had been more actively misgoverned than Ireland. In the seventeenth century the national leaders of the Catholic Celts had been destroyed as a class, and their lands given to a garrison of alien landlords. The priests had stepped into the vacant place prepared for them by Protestant statesmanship, as leaders of the oppressed and friendless peasantry. In the latter half of the eighteenth century, the fiercer parts of the Penal Laws against Catholics, unsuited to the spirit of a latitudinarian age, became obsolete and were repealed. But Protestant ascendancy remained unimpaired. The gates of political power were still closed on the Catholic, and the peasant tilled the soil to pay tithes to an alien Church, and rent to an alien squirearchy.
In such circumstances, it might have been expected that the Churches of the Protestant Minority would have been closely united at heart with each other and with Great Britain. But such was not the case. The Presbyterians, the strongest body in Protestant Ulster, were, until 1780, excluded by the Test Act from political power and from all the privileges of the governing oligarchy. Meanwhile the whole body of the inhabitants of Ireland were treated as economic helots by the British Parliament. Irish industries, mainly Protestant, were crushed out by laws dictated by English commercial jealousy. Many thousands of Ulster Protestants had sought refuge in North America, and found there revenge on the country that had so ill repaid their services.
The Saxon reconquest under William III broke the spirit of the native Irish for three generations. During the Marl-borough wars and the British rebellions of 1715 and 1745, the enemies of England could make nothing out of Ireland's apathetic despair. Only in the last quarter of the century did she begin to feel ` fire in her ashes.'
The national revolt originated among Protestants. It was they who first called on Irishmen, irrespective of creed, to unite against English commercial tyranny and against the political and religious despotism of the clique in Dublin Castle who ruled in the name of England. This movement, though popular among the fierce Presbyterians of the North, found its leader in the temperate and enlightened genius of Grattan. If liberal statesmanship from Westminster had met him half-way, the Irish problem might have been started on the road to solution before the Catholics had become disloyal, before the Orange Lodges had been founded and before the fires of fanaticism had been kindled on both sides. Irish history from 1782 to 1801 is the history of England's first failure to know her appointed hour.
During the war of the American Revolution, ` England's difficulty had been Ireland's opportunity.' The defence of Ireland against France had been undertaken by an army of Volunteers, at first entirely Protestants, but enthusiastically sup-ported by the Catholics. Under the leadership of Grattan, the Volunteers exacted from England the abolition of Ireland's commercial disabilities, and the nominal independence of her Parliament from English control. She thus secured free markets for her goods, but she did not in fact secure self-government. For the oligarchy in Dublin Castle, nominated from Westminster, continued to govern the island and to manipulate the Dublin Parliament through its rotten boroughs. The patriots saw that only a Reform Bill could secure the independence even of Protestant Ireland. And the Catholic majority was still excluded from voting or sitting in the national Parliament.
Any time in the decade following 1782, a Reform Bill, Catholic Emancipation, and the payment of the Catholic priests by the Government would have diverted the whole history of Ireland into happier channels. The attitude of eighteenth-century latitudinarianism still prevailed.' The control exercised by the Catholic priest over the laity was comparatively lax and he had not yet taken to politics. Politically, the two creeds were divided only by the fragile barrier of Catholic disabilities. The island was not yet cleft in two by Orangeism and Catholic disloyalty. The popular movement was towards Grattan's reconciliation of creeds and races in a common Irish patriotism. It was against this reconciliation that Dublin Castle plotted successfully, and Pitt, though he more nearly agreed with Grattan, allowed the plot to succeed. It proved impossible for the head of the Tory and Royalist party in England to carry out a policy of reform and emancipation in Ireland.
In 1793 a step was taken in the right direction, when the Irish Parliament repealed another batch of the Penal Laws and gave the electoral vote to the Catholics, who were still how-ever prevented from sitting in Parliament. The concession was too small, and came too late, for the French Revolution was on the point of evoking fiercer passions and wilder hopes.
Yet the first effect of the heightening of passion by the events in France was not to set creed against creed. The ` United Irishmen,' as their name implied, sought to combine all creeds. The Republicanism of their first leaders was a blend of new American and French, with old Puritan ideals. Their hatred of England tended at least to Irish unity, which con-cessions in the spirit of Grattan might still have guided back into the paths of loyalty and peace.
At this stage, when all hung in the balance, occurred the decisive episode of Lord Fitzwilliam. That nobleman, one of the Portland Whigs who had recently rallied to Pitt's Government, held strongly Liberal views about Ireland. He was sent there as Viceroy without a clear previous understanding as to the policy he should pursue. If Pitt had been negligent, Fitzwilliam was rash. He began to clear out the ` Castle gang ' from the Government posts which they monopolised, and expressed himself in favour of immediate Catholic Emancipation. This policy, however right it may have been, was not that of the home government. Fitzwilliam was recalled, and his recall was held by the Catholics and the United Irish-men to signify that the constitutional channel to reform was closed. Submission or rebellion were the alternatives offered.
For the next three years, the drift to rebellion was gradual, through anarchy and agrarian crime. And before rebellion came to a head, the breach between the two creeds had been reopened. In parts of Ulster, where Protestants and Catholics tilled their farms side by side, mutual outrages began, and in the absence of any controlling force, degenerated into a state of local warfare of a peculiarly horrible kind. It was now that the Orange Lodges were founded to combat the Catholic ' Defenders.' England could not send the troops to keep order they were dying of fever in the West Indies so Government was fain to employ as umpires the Protestant Yeomanry and Orangemen, who were parties to the quarrel. This shocking necessity favoured the policy of the ' Castle' and of those whose object it was to foster the religious strife, on the principle of divide et impera. The Viceroy, Lord Cornwallis, who held enlightened views, wrote in September 1798 ' Religious animosities increase, and, I am sorry to say, are encouraged by the foolish violence of all the principal persons who have been in the habit of governing this island.
The French greatly added to the trouble. Their fleet, carrying Hoche and 15,000 soldiers, appeared in Bantry Bay, but failed to land. If they had landed, there was no force sufficient to prevent their conquest of the island.1 It was the French promises, and the apparent likelihood of their fulfilment, that wedded the leaders of the United Irishmen, Wolfe Tone and Lord Edward Fitzgerald, to the fatal policy of waging a Republican war on the British Empire. They hoped by that means to unite the creeds, but in fact they divided them afresh by a blood-feud that revived the fast fading traditions of Cromwell and the Boyne.
The danger to the ungarrisoned island from French invasion rallied to Government all Protestants who were not serious in their hatred of the British connection. Fear of French con-quest inspired the panic-stricken cruelties of the Protestant Yeomanry, to whom was entrusted the task of disarming the Catholic peasants. The search for arms was conducted by flogging, torture, murder and loot. Sir Ralph Abercromby, commanding the British forces in Ireland, officially denounced their cruelty and indiscipline. In this way the passively disloyal districts of the South were goaded into the Rebellion of 1798.
The ' ninety-eight ' was a local religious rising led by priests. This character, and the murders and atrocities that stained it, rallied the last Presbyterian farmers from the cause of United Ireland to the ' Orange ' tradition. The sentimental feud that still divides Ireland had come into being as the result of these events, arousing from sleep old memories and instincts. The storming of the rebel camp at Vinegar Hill was the decisive action of the brief and irregular war.
The prostration that followed the ' ninety-eight' offered one last opportunity to peacemakers. Pitt now applied him-self to the main problems of Ireland, which he had so long neglected. His great design was a Parliamentary union of the two islands, accompanied by Catholic Emancipation (that is, the admission of Catholics to sit in Parliament), the commutation of tithes and the payment of the Irish priests. It could scarcely have been a permanent solution of the Irish question, but it might have been the best way to repair provisionally the terrible mischief of the last half-dozen years. But what he actually accomplished, the destruction of the Irish Parliament without the smallest concession to the Catholics, left matters worse than before.
The Union was carried, partly by buying the borough owners of the Dublin Parliament, partly by securing the ac-quiescence of the Catholics with the promise of their emancipation to follow. It never occurred to Pitt to find out in advance whether he would be in a position to redeem this pledge which his agents were allowed to make. He never consulted George III beforehand, or seriously tried to overcome his resistance when he found, too late, that his master was violently opposed to Catholic Emancipation. Pitt salved his own conscience by resigning in favour of his anti-Catholic friend, Addington. But then, in a fit of generosity at other people's expense, he took the fatal step of promising the half-mad King that he would never move the Catholic question again so long as the King lived. The age of chivalry was not dead. George's wishes mattered more than the wishes of Ire-land, and his health more than the health of the whole Empire.
The net result of these transactions was that the Catholic body in Ireland regarded themselves as the victims of a fraud. The position in which they were left by the Union was without hope, because the British Parliament and people were more obstinately opposed to Catholic Emancipation than the Irish had been. George III had taken what was, in England, the popular line. The Tories, in the generation after Pitt's death, found in ' No-Popery ' the best antidote to their own increasing unpopularity, and a fine election cry against Whigs and Radicals. So the Union, instead of being the road to Emancipation, put it off till the Greek Calends. It might yet be extorted, but it would not be conceded.
Pitt had also designed another measure which, at that epoch, would have done as much as Catholic Emancipation itself to remove Irish disloyalty. He had intended to give a Government grant to the priests. The bishops in those days were ready to accept the arrangement, and it would have established a relation between the priesthood and the Government which might have gone far to alter the trend of Irish affairs. But Pitt abandoned this part also of his plan. The Irish Catholic world found itself once more as completely isolated as it had been in the middle of the eighteenth century. Presbyterian sympathy had curdled into Orange hatred. Government promises had been broken. Nothing more was to be hoped from Protestants or from Englishmen. At the Union the Catholics were barred out of the new Constitution to shift for themselves. These conditions nursed into active life that peculiar blend of Irish Catholicism and Irish democracy, profoundly antagonistic to England, which remained for the next hundred years the governing fact of Irish politics. Yet its two great leaders in the nineteenth century O'Connell and Parnell - were both men of a certain moderation, prepared to come to terms with England inside the bounds of the British Empire. It was not until the German War of our own day engendered passions and policies as heated as those bred by the War of the French Revolution, that the militant Republicanism of Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen was revived on an extensive scale.
While the First Consul, at the glowing furnace of his brain, was forging the framework of modern France, a few hundred Englishmen, out of their practical experience, were more slowly doing the like for modern India. One, indeed, of these Englishmen, Richard, Marquis Wellesley, elder brother of Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, had in him a touch of the Napoleonic that considerably quickened the pace.
As a consequence of Pitt's Indian legislation,1 his two great Governors-General, Lords Cornwallis and Wellesley, had many advantages over their predecessor, Warren Hastings. He had been hampered by the Council in Calcutta. They held absolute authority in the Company's territories. Hastings had been de-pendent on the timid commercialism of the Directors at home, and on the whims of a Parliament only half responsible for India and therefore more concerned to criticise than to help. Cornwallis and Wellesley were strengthened by the firm and intelligent support of Pitt and Dundas, representing Parliament and overruling the Directors.
Cornwallis completed the internal work of Hastings, bringing order out of chaos, and fixing the taxation and administration of Bengal as the example for all provinces subsequently acquired. Under Cornwallis and his successors there grew up in British territory a sense, novel in India, of security from outside attack and from the grosser forms of domestic oppression. In the epoch when this was all that we had to give, it was enough to make our rule welcome to people to whom the yet more seductive idea of self-government was unknown either in theory or experience. Western education and Western ideas had not yet begun to penetrate.
The unforeseen and unintended union, in a permanent political relation, of two distant and dissimilar branches of the human family, was becoming an accomplished fact. It was initiated by men who, unlike the Anglo-Indians of later times, were divided by six months' voyage from their mother country, had few home ties, got little home news, and who in many cases had not European wives and saw but little European society. Their sports were in the jungle rather than on the polo ground and the tennis-court. For daily interests and for human inter-course they were forced into relation with the Indians, and in the political conditions of that epoch there were many with whom they had to deal as equals. One famous British Resident at a native Court married the niece of the ruler to whom he was accredited. Doubtless there were inferior men like Jos Sedley, but the better type of Anglo-Indian in the first decades of the century studied India closely and to good purpose, be-cause he was fixed there in isolation from his own country, and with nothing else to do.
Although the extension of the Pax Britannica throughout all Hindoostan was a work only completed shortly before the Mutiny, the decisive steps in the process of expansion were taken in the last years of Pitt's life. The device, occasionally adopted by Clive and Warren Hastings, of ` subsidiary treaties' with protected native States, was turned by Wellesley into a permanent and universally applicable policy for securing the British position in India.
During Wellesley's Governor-Generalship the system of ' subsidiary treaties ' was developed on these lines :--a ruler whom the British Government guaranteed against attack by his neighbours, would make a money payment, and the English in return would raise, train and command an equivalent number of sepoys to defend him, while he kept the internal administration of the State in his own hands. The leading instance of this system was Hyderabad, which still remains a 'native State.' Hyderabad was being ground to pieces between its war like neighbours. On the south was Mysore, governed by the fanatical Moslem Sultan, Tippoo, while to the north and west lay the Hindoo chiefs of the Maratha confederacy.1 The defeat of these two common enemies of Hyderabad and of Britain was the great work of Marquis Wellesley, which left England the paramount power in the Peninsula.
After the death of England's bitterest foe, ` Tippoo Sahib,' sabre in hand, at the storming of his capital Seringapatam, the remnant of Mysore, stripped of its outlying territories, was given back to the original Hindoo dynasty, and is a ' native State ' today.
Both Tippoo and the Maratha chiefs were lured to destruction by hopes of French aid. The arrival of Bonaparte in Egypt, confessedly as a half-way house to India, excited in the more ambitious of the Moslem and Hindoo warriors the expectation of driving the English into the sea. French officers drilled their armies in the European fashion, and helped them to obtain an efficient artillery. The Marathas ceased to rely on their natural strength, the swarms of mounted spearmen, apt in guerilla warfare, who had ridden ravaging over all India between the banks of the Indus and the fortifications of Calcutta and Madras. In this later epoch they put their trust in an army on the European model. Whether this change did most to increase or diminish their ultimate power of resistance to the British, is a question which it is hard to determine. The new force was more formidable for the conquest of other native States, and could put up a much stouter resistance before being defeated by General Sir Arthur Wellesley at battles like Assaye. But it was hampered in its movements by artillery and by the requirements of regular troops, and when it was once overthrown and dispersed, could not be replaced as easily as the ' Maratha hordes ' of old. In spite of the European fashion of their armies, the Marathas were conquered. The strife between the warrior chiefs of their confederacy, like Holkar and Sindia, helped the Wellesley brothers in the difficult task of bringing Central India under British control with small forces, operating over immense tracts of territory before the days of the railway.
The great Governor-General had the impatience and the autocratic temper that often accompanies real genius not quite of the first order an impatience that combined with his ' cross-bench ' views to disable him, after his return to Europe in 1806, from rendering public services worthy of his Indian achievements. When, during his Governor-Generalship, the Directors used to protest against Wellesley's policy and the fresh wars in which it involved the Company, he would write home in his letters to Ministers of the ` pack of narrow-minded old women ' in ` the most loathsome den of the India House.
Pitt had supported his friend's forward policy, though not wholly without misgiving. But after Wellesley's return to Europe, which coincided with Pitt's death, there was a period of retrogression. Again, as in the years preceding his arrival in India, an attempt was made to limit the area and obligations of the subsidiary treaties. But whenever the cautious policy of the Directors was given a trial, experience soon proved it to be impossible. In a country where, to use Wellington's phrase, no such thing as a frontier really existed,' we could not, with the best will in the world, obtain peace and security even for our own territories, until we had brought every State in the Peninsula into a fixed relation to our power, acknowledged as paramount.