The Papacy had stopped recognising the Jacobite cause on the death of the “Young Pretender” in 1766. The authorities feared that the American rebellion of 1775 might inspire a rebellion by Catholics in the Kingdom of Ireland.
By this Act, an oath was imposed, which besides a declaration of loyalty to the reigning sovereign, contained an abjuration of the Pretender, and of certain doctrines attributed to Roman Catholics, such as that excommunicated princes may lawfully be murdered, that no faith should be kept with heretics, and that the Pope had temporal as well as spiritual jurisdiction in Great Britain
Those taking this oath were exempted from some of the provisions of the Popery Act 1698. Although it did not grant freedom of worship, it allowed Catholics to join the army and purchase land if they took an oath of allegiance.
The provisions for taking and prosecuting priests was repealed, as well as the penalty of perpetual imprisonment for keeping a school. Roman Catholics were also enabled to inherit and purchase land, nor was an heir who conformed to the Established church any longer empowered to enter and enjoy the estate of his “papist” kinsman.
The so-called “Sixth of George I” in response to the Irish declaration of independence was at first accepted by the Patriots as an acknowledgment of the incompetence of Britain to legislate for Ireland. Some in Parliament claimed that a formal renunciation of claim of superiority was required.
The Catholic Relief Act 1778 was passed by the British Parliament was the first Act for Roman Catholic relief. Later in 1778 it was also enacted by the Parliament of Ireland.
In the aftermath of the American revolution, there was profound redefinition of the constitutional relationship between Britain and Ireland. In an attempt to pacify Ireland, the Constitution of 1782 took effect by the amendment of Ponying’s law by Yelverton’s law, Yelverton’s law provided that the Lord Lieutenant or other chief governors shall certify such bills and none other as both House of the Parliament’s shall judge expedient without alteration.
Following further pressure , an Act of the British Parliament in 1783 affirmed the complete legislative and judicial independence of Ireland would be established and ascertained forever and at no time hereafter to be questioned or questionable. The renunciation added little to the existing independence.
Legislation was enacted that provided that judges were to hold office during good behaviour. The jurisdiction of the English courts over the Irish courts was removed by two British statutes.
Irish bills required the Royal assent given by the British Privy Council. The Council retained power to reject bills even after Yelverton’s Act. Some bills were delayed and some purported to be altered.
Two Catholic Relief Acts were passed in 1782, which modified penal legislation on land, education, residence of bishops, regular clergy and the registration of priests. The most pressing question was whether Catholics should be granted political rights. The Volunteer movement was split on the issue of Catholic rights.
The Lord Lieutenant was still nominated and responsible to the British cabinet. He controlled the Irish executive. This power survived the constitutional changes of 1782.
Due to British politics of the time , there was a succession of cabinets and viceroys with very short tenure of office. Parliamentary sessions became annual, and the business of Parliament increased significantly.
The executive sought to control and modify legislation given the option of its rejection by the Privy Council in England had been removed. The means for rewarding and purchasing support in the House of Commons was extended through creation of new offices and pensions as well as increasing salaries. Lucrative offices which were formerly held by absentees were restored to Ireland. It was said that the cost of pensions and offices required to maintain the government majority, rose significantly on the grant of parliamentary independence.
It was necessary to have in government Irishmen of standing and ability, familiar with the country. The administration become too complex to be managed by the Lord Lieutenant, Chief Secretary and a number of subservient office holders. Many of the key offices passed to Irish appointees.
Although such officers might be regarded as a Cabinet in some sense, there was no collective responsibility and independent basis of authority. When its advice was rejected by the British Ministry, the Cabinet remained in office and executed the policy decided in London.
Pitt, the British Prime Minister sought to frame a commercial treaty between Britain and Ireland. It proposed free trade in foreign and colonial goods without the imposition of additional duties. Neither country was to prohibit the import of the goods of the others and the duty if any levied on articles should be seen in one country as the other.
Where existing duties differed, the higher was to be reduced to the level of the lower. There was to be mutual preference for the produce of either country over foreign imports. In any year in which the hereditary revenue of Ireland exceeded a fixed sum, the surplus was to be devoted to the maintenance of the Navy. The proposal was amended so that the contribution was not to be paid in a year in which revenue fell short of national expenditure in time of peace.
The provisions were introduced in both Parliaments in 1785. They were amended in the British Parliament under powerful influence from trade interests. When represent to the Irish Parliament as amended, the proposals were rejected by reason of the changes made in the British Parliament which were perceived to undermine the recently gained independence.
The French Revolution of 1789 and the following years affected Ireland on the number of levels. Belfast radicals drew their inspiration from the French Revolution. Outside Parliament, revolutionary enthusiasm gave new life to the declining Volunteer movement who linked it with the American Declaration of Independence and Irish Constitution of 1782.
In the North, the Volunteer movement remained strong especially among Protestant dissenters and they expressed republican sentiments most clearly. Although, Roman Catholics did not share the Presbyterian enthusiasm for the revolution, due to the treatment of the French Church, there was a strong element which sought to press for its full civil rights, favoured parliamentary reform and was prepared to ally with the Presbyterians against the government.
In 1791, the Catholic Committee appointed the Theobald Wolfe Tone who had recently attacked the penal laws as its Secretary. His aim was to bring together Irishmen of all creeds to establish complete religious equality and effect a radical reform of Parliament. He had helped found the Society of United Irishmen in Belfast as an instrument to carry out his policies. Similar societies were established in Dublin and throughout Ireland.
Pitt’s desire to conciliate Catholic opinion which reflected in Great Britain by the repeal of most British penal legislation in 1791. In both cases, the object was to strengthen unity against possible danger from revolutionary fronts.
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