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constituted, self-assembled, self-adjourned, acknowledging no superior, tolerating no equal, interfering in all stages with the administration of justice, levying contributions, and discharging all the functions of regular government, it obtained a complete mastery and control over the masses of the Irish people." So the English minister Canning described the Catholic Association two years after its establishment The struggle now became a fight between the government and one man, for it was O'Connell who infused life into the Catholics, and whose spirit pervaded all classes, and animated the whole nation.
In 1824 the government resolved to prosecute him for sedition, but the prosecution broke down, and he became more formidable than ever. In 1825 the authorities made a more serious move. They suppressed the Catholic Association. But O'Connell immediately founded another Catholic Association, the same as the first in everything except the name. Throughout the years 1826 and 1827 England did nothing for the Catholics. But Ireland was now drifting into revolution. The country was surging with discontent. The Irish soldiers in the English army could no longer be trusted.
Under the cover of a constitutional agitation, O'Connell had roused the spirit of rebellion. The lord - lieutenant saw the coming storm, and warned the English minister to give way.
But the minister stolidly refused. Then the agitation was brought to a head. In the summer of 1828 an election took
THE CLARE ELECTION
place in the County Clare. The government candidate was Mr Vesey Fitzgerald, president of the Board of Trade. Upon the side of the Catholics stood O'Connell himself. As a Catholic he could not sit in parliament, but he resolved to force the hand of the government by getting returned for the seat. Mr Fitzgerald used soft words and made fair promises. But O'Connell said Ireland had had enough of these things. “The time is come,' he exclaimed, when the system which has been pursued towards this country must be put a stop to. It will not do for the future
“Sweet friend, I wish you well,” but it must be shown by acts hat they do wish us well. It is time that this system should be put an end to, and I am come here to put an end to it. The election began amid a scene of intense excitement. The county was filled with troops, for the government apprehended tumult and disorder, if not open rebellion. But O'Connell kept his forces well in hand. He had organised the mighty masses which hung upon his breath so that they might overawe the government by their strength and discipline, but expose themselves to no unnecessary or foolish risks.
With the weapons of the constitution he had resolved to strike down the minister who would not allow the Irish people to enter the constitution. At the beginning of the election an incident occurred which, though slight in itself, showed the power of O'Connell and the flow of the tide. As O'Connell walked through Ennis to the
polling station, the streets were lined with troops. The people cheered; the enthusiasm spread to the soldiers, and a young private, stepping out from the ranks in defiance of all discipline, rushed to O'Connell, exclaiming,— 'I care not what may happen to me, I must shake the hand of the saviour of my country.' The spirit of the youthful soldier was shared by his more cautious comrades, who, as the Times said, had been 'manifestly inoculated in the feelings of those among whom they live, and from whom they were taken.'
The contest lasted for several days. The landlords fought upon the side of the government, but their tenants revolted, and voted to a man for O'Connell. On July 5 the poll was declared ; O'Connell was returned by an overwhelming majority. Of course he was not allowed to take his seat in Parliament, but he had brought the struggle to an issue which the minister could no longer shirk. That issue was, in the minister's own words, 'concession or civil war.' 'In the autumn' [of 1828], said Sir Robert Peel, 'out of a regular infantry force amounting to 30,000 men, 25,000 were stationed either in Ireland or on the west coast of England, with a view to the maintenance of tranquillity in Ireland. I consider the state of things which requires such an application of military force much worse than open rebellion.' "If we cannot get rid of the Catholic Association,' said the Duke of Wellington, 'we must look to civil war in Ireland.' But there was only one way
of getting rid of the Catholic Association, and that was by emancipating the Catholics. The government realised this fact at last, and in the spring of 1829 Catholic Emancipation was carried triumphantly through both Houses of Parliament. 'I have,' said O'Connell, 'gained a bloodless victory more glorious than Waterloo.' Catholics were now admitted to parliament, and were allowed to hold all military and civil offices, except the important posts of regent, of lord chancellor, and of lord-lieutenant of Ireland.
Unhappily for the peace of Ireland, and for the establishment of friendly relations between the two countries, Catholic Emancipation, which was grudgingly granted, was unfairly carried out. 'In 1833, four years after Catholic Emancipation,' says Mr Lecky, there was not in Ireland a single Catholic judge or stipendiary magistrate. All the high sheriffs, with one exception, the overwhelming majority of the unpaid magistrates and of the grand jurors, the five inspectors-general, and the thirty subinspectors of police, were Protestants. . For many years promotion had been steadily withheld from those who advocated Catholic Emancipation, and the majority of the people thus found their bitterest enemies in the foremost places.'
O'Connell was marked out for special repro bation, and the English minister and the English press regarded him as a public enemy with whom no terms should be made or kept. The measure was also accompanied by a flagrant act of injustice which left bitter recollections behind. The forty-shilling freeholders who had won the battle of emancipation were at once disfranchised. Thus the concession of Catholic Emancipation was wanting in the grace and generosity which inspire gratitude, affection and respect. It brought no peace, it effaced no memories, and it served to keep alive the feeling that everything was to be got from England's fear; nothing from her justice.
The logical outcome of Catholic Emancipation should have been the immediate abolition of the tithes which the Catholic population paid to the Protestant State Church. But the government resolved to uphold the tithe system in defiance of the popular demands. The result was a fierce agitation, which culminated literally in a peasants' war.2
1 In 1793 the franchise was extended to Catholic tenants who paid a freehold rent' of forty shillings. These tenants voted generally at the bidding of their landlords. But at the Clare election they revolted, and were punished accordingly.
2 It may be noted that in 1831 national schools were established in Ireland. These schools, supported by parliamentary grants, were open alike to Catholics and Protestants. Four days in the week were to be devoted to moral and literary, and one or two days to separate religious instruction. A Board, composed partly of Catholics and partly of Protestants, were given the entire control of the system.