« AnteriorContinuar »
Grattan's celebrated invective, to which, brief as it is, little can be added or subtracted to make a strong prima facie case of party dereliction. On the other side, it must, in fairness, be confessed that, in Mr Flood's defence of himself on a subsequent night, the charges of Mr Grattan receive favourable and not improbable explanations. After fairly considering both, it will be confessed that the statements on either part come, in point of plain and tangible fact, nearly to the same, and that the true question remains as to the balance of the probability in favour of the patriotic or the corrupt motives. Every point of Mr Grattan's statement may be answered by the solution of a patriotic, honourable, and expedient motive; and every point of Mr Flood's by a probable imputation. It was unquestionable that Mr Flood accepted of a lucrative office at a time when he and the party to which he was understood to belong were essentially an opposition; but it is obvious enough that there was room to conclude that, in so doing, he was stepping into the very position in which-to all appearance, and, considering the then state of affairs—he might find the readiest means to serve his country. If, however, the fact be urged that, during the period in which he held office, his conduct as a member of the house was remarkably altered, that he became silent on most questions, and observably evaded others; the answer is ready,that this was an essential condition of the part he had taken. His opposition to the government in the house could be at that time of small avail; while his influence in the privy council was of much to prevent or modify such measures as were thought inadmissible by the friends of Ireland. It is, after all allowances, consistent with our theory of human nature, to observe that both classes of motive very usually exist in the mind,-in which elevated and low sentiments deeply co-exist and curiously combine; and it rarely occurs that there is a course of conduct for which mean motives cannot be found or good motives pleaded. Upon the whole, therefore, when such questions arise, we think the general tenor of the life and conduct of the individual may be thrown into the scale. And if, on looking at the result, the conduct has led to actual good, it would be but fair to allow that such good may have been foreseen and intended by the actor. With this view we shall here conclude that, in the acceptance of a lucrative office, Mr Flood satisfied himself that he might thereby serve his country effectually, and that his conduct in office was not inconsistent with such a view. The charge of having voted with government on mere questions of party would be frivolous; on many great questions opposition would, under circumstances, be unavailing as well as inexpedient, which on several occasions, in which something was to be effected by influence and firmness, it must be admitted that Mr Flood came forward as the adviser or even the opponent of the cabinet, and rendered important services, some of which we shall presently notice. For a more detailed view, we must refer the curious reader to the statements made by Mr Grattan and Mr Flood, as the fullest and clearest we have been enabled to obtain.*
In the same year, lord Harcourt's government was farther strength
* Mr Grattan's will be found at full length in the memoir published by his son. Mr Flood's defence may be read at length in his life by Warden Flood, Esq.
ened by the acquisition of two other important allies; Mr Hussey Burgh, who was raised to the office of prime sergeant, and Mr Hutchinson, who obtained the still higher, though somewhat inappropriate, honour of being appointed provost. These appointments, together with that of Mr Flood, were censured by the earl of Charlemont. Of this, so far as regards Mr Flood, there is sufficient proof in the published letters of this nobleman to him. Mr Hardy has, however, rashly affirmed that an entire cessation of intercourse between these distinguished persons was the immediate consequence. This is plainly disproved by the subsequent correspondence which has been published, and which unequivocally manifests the unbroken continuation of the most affectionate and cordial intercourse. The brother of lord Charlemont was, in this year, lost in the passage from England to Dublin, and the borough which he represented, being in the possession of the earl, would have, but for the incidents here noticed, been offered to the acceptance of Mr Flood. Under the circumstances, it is needless to explain that this act of friendship had become incompatible with the public opinions and station of the noble earl. He expressed clearly, but kindly, his opinion as to the objectionable character of the step which Mr Flood was about to take, in thusthough with the most honourable motives—committing himself to the stream of influences, so charged with imputation and seduction, and significantly quoted a passage from Virgil :
- Facilis descensus Averni ;
Hoc opus, hic labor est. In his acceptance of the vice-treasurership, one of the motives assigned by Mr Flood was the desire to render this office accessible to Irishmen, as it had been till then exclusively filled by Englishmen. He also made some stipulations in favour of Ireland. In the council he lent his aid to obtain a limited mutiny bill—the rejection of altered money bills, and the important concession that privy council bills should not be defended by the crown.
Mr Flood held office during the administrations of lords Harcourt and Buckingham. In 1780, in the end nearly of the latter, he resigned on the declared ground that the line of policy contemplated by him was not that which the government had adopted. When the parliament met he stood forward, without hesitation, in the character of an opposition orator, and was complimented by Mr Ponsonby, “who rejoiced to see the right honourable gentleman, after an eclipse of seven years, burst forth in such a blaze of eloquence.” On this expression, Mr Flood observed,—“ The honourable gentleman has said that I am emerged from a seven years' eclipse. It is true I supported lord Harcourt's administration; but was I eclipsed, when, on several occasions, I went not with them, and stated my reasons for doing so ? I also supported lord Buckingham. On that eventful day when a free trade was demanded, was I eclipsed? When a bill of rights was the subject of debate, did I shrink from the question?”
We have already noticed at some length, and shall again be compelled to enter more largely into the discussions on the repeal of 6 George I., and the other accompanying acts of concession, which gave independence to the Irish legislature. We have also noticed the address on that occasion proposed by Mr Grattan, expressive of the consent and acceptance which the measure received from the Irish house of commons. To this address Mr Flood proposed an objection, which led to a warm and interesting debate. The offer of the British government went no farther than a simple repeal of the obnoxious statute; Mr Flood contended for a declaratory act expressly renouncing the right of binding Ireland by the English parliament. And in truth, reasoning directly upon the facts, it seems not easy to evade the force of Mr Flood's objection: for the evil had arisen from mere usurpation; nor could there be any security in the mere silence of statute law against the recurrence of similar usurpations, unless in the positive barrier raised by an express declaration of the British legislature. The changes of some years might materially change the relative advantages of the two countries; and, up to that time, there had not been any indication in the conduct of the British legislature, from which it could with certainty be inferred that the consideration of justice to the commercial or legislative rights or interests of Ireland would operate as a restraint when occasion should again chance to favour such usurpations. On the other hand, the general spirit of the age had been widely changed; the common sentiments of the British nation had been enlarged and enlightened, and Ireland had also made many important steps in moral and commercial advance. There could be little chance of any act founded on the conditions of a darker state of things ever again recurring. The mere existence of such evils could not be referred to as a ground of such apprehensions for the future, because every one can at once understand how different is the temper which operates to maintain a present established evil from that which would originate the same. Thus contemplated, such an apprehension seemed to imply, that, after the emancipation of her commerce and legislature, Ireland was to stand still. But while we fully admit that the practical expediency of an express declaration was not very considerable, we must yet insist on the wisdom of Mr Flood's proposal. The declaration which he required was assuredly the proper completion of the measure proposed: and as it could really add nothing to the actual concession, unless on the supposition of a fraudulent intent, -there could be nothing of the nature of unreasonable exaction in a demand that conceded nothing, and sacrificed nothing. Some arguments of no slight cogency for Mr Flood's view, were drawn from the known circumstances of the discussion which had occurred in the British legislature, in which great reluctance had been shown by several eminent statesmen to concede the principle of right. The contest was maintained with great ability on both sides; and Mr Flood, though foiled at first, eventually carried his point.
This eventual success of Mr Flood was promoted by circumstances. A few weeks after the repeal of the act 6 George I., Ireland was named in a British act, which laid some restraint on the cotton trade. It was also favoured by a decision by lord Mansfield on an Irish writ of error, which brought into prominent notice the appellant jurisdiction of the British house of peers in Ireland. The case decided by lord Mansfield, had, it is true, been lodged before the repeal of the statute 6 George I. But, in giving his reason in support of his decision, his lordship asserted the right on more general grounds. He alleged “that he knew of no law depriving the British court of its vested jurisdiction.” Lord Mansfield's anxiety to maintain that jurisdiction was accounted for by the assertion that he had large investments in Irish mortgages, by which means one per cent. additional was obtained for his money.* Soon after, an act was passed in the British parliament, regulating the importation of sugars from St Domingo to all the king's dominions in Europe: as such an act had a constructive application to Ireland, it had the effect of raising a commotion in this country. The excitement caused by these several incidents was increased, and a strong sense of insufficient security confirmed by lord Abingdon's motion in the English house of lords, in which he distinctly stated the opinion that the king and parliament of England had no right to renounce the jurisdiction of England over Ireland.
These excitements were of themselves sufficient to make the British government aware that something further was to be done; and, in the following session, they brought in an express act of renunciation, 23 George III., “for removing and preventing all doubts which have arisen, or might arise, concerning the exclusive rights of the parliament and courts of Ireland, in matters of legislation and judicature,” &c., &c. Of this act the whole language was clear and unequivocal, and imbodied all the objected points with the utmost fulness.
The contest of opinion, which broke the harmony of the popular party, was, nevertheless, far from being ended. Mr Flood's argument had, in fact, been acted upon; while Mr Grattan, and those who thought with him, continued to retain their first opinion in favour of the sufficiency of a simple repeal of the previous act 6 George I. In fact, the opposition which, sustained by the external pressure of the volunteers, and backed by a liberal administration in England, had effected for Ireland such constitutional victories, now began to lose strength by the important ordinary operation of human passions. It cannot be overlooked that the changes of administration which had restored some eminent men to the ranks of the Irish opposition, had thus also infused a principle of division. Nor can we conceal our conviction of the effects now resulting from the jealousy which almost of necessity existed between Mr Flood and Mr Grattan, and diffused itself widely among their adherents. The protracted discussions upon the above measure had not only the effect of deeply imbittering against each other the minds of these two eminent men, who were thus directly placed in a state of competition for public favour, but it also infused a vague distrust through the country as to the sincerity of England. With this a still more operative excitement arose; the majority in the Irish Parliament had decided for the sufficiency of a measure, which the subsequent act of the British legislature had admitted to be unsatisfactory. Here, in the moment of apparent triumph, was full material for civil commotion, suspicion, and discontent. The
volunteers were again roused into action, and the opinion that the Irish parliament did not represent the people, became the prominent matter of complaint.
With the volunteers Mr Flood now obtained the highest popularity; and when, very shortly after, the memorable quarrel between him and Mr Grattan occurred, he was addressed by them on that occasion, to express their sense of his services, and to censure the uncalled-for and unmerited severity of Mr Grattan's attack. We shall not here enter into the further details of this period of Mr Flood's life. They have in part been briefly noticed already, and shall be farther stated in our memoir of Mr Grattan. Of the quarrel here adverted to it is necessary to offer an outline.
The brief administration of lord Temple was succeeded by that of lord Northington, in 1783, who was appointed with the celebrated coalition ministry in the same year. A new parliament met in Ireland on the 14th October. In this the Irish had shown their gratitude by the exclusion of both their great leaders, and Mr Flood and Mr Grattan were each compelled to have recourse to boroughs for their seats. About a fortnight after the meeting of parliament, Sir H. Cavendish moved that the state of the kingdom required every practicable retrenchment. Mr Flood, as had been his wont, entered into some very severe comments on the government, and proposed, as an amendment, that the country demanded retrenchment.” He was replied to by Mr Grattan, whose comments were tinged with some severity. A mutual jealousy had been long growing up between these eminent men, and both were prepared to seize on any occasion for the discharge of their animosity. During the previous year the materials of bitter recrimination had been collecting in their minds; and their personal hostility was kept alive, and armed by a wide difference of. political principle. Of these motives we shall be in a better condition to speak when engaged in the memoir of Mr Grattan, because we shall then enter into many details, which we here omit. For the same reason, we defer the full narration of the incidents of this memorable debate. Mr Grattan, as we have stated, replied in a tone of sarcasm ;-Mr Flood claimed his right to reply to a personal charge, and, in defending himself, retorted with a degree of acrimonious point and with imputations so very personal and galling, that he probably felt, as the last sentence of his reply expresses, a triumphant sense of having crushed his antagonist.-“I have now done. Give me leave to say, if the gentleman enters often into this sort of colloquy with me, he will not have much to boast of at the end of the session.” Mr Flood's invective—for such it was-was indeed highly creditable to his oratorical reputation, and contained passages, which, had they even been the result of elaborate preparation, would still deserve the praise of highly finished composition. We shall offer but an example:-"A man of warm imagination and brilliant fancy will sometimes be dazzled with his own ideas, and may for a moment fall into error; but a man of sound head could not make so egregious a mistake, and a man of an honest heart could not persist in it after it was discovered." Among other innuendoes of the most cutting severity was one which could not fail to provoke, and, indeed, demanded the utmost power of retort. The