CHAPTER IX. THE ERA OF INDEPENDENCE - FIRST PERIOD.
The accession of the Rockingham administration to power, in 1782, was followed by the recall of Lord Carlisle, and the substitution, as Viceroy, of one of the leading Lords of the Whig party. The nobleman selected to this office was William Henry, third Duke of Portland, afterwards twice prime minister; then in the prime of life, possessed of a very ample fortune, and uniting in his own person the two great Whig families of Bentinck and Cavendish. The policy he was sent to represent at Dublin was undoubtedly an imperial policy; a policy which looked as anxiously to the integrity of the empire as any Tory cabinet could have desired; but it was, in most other respects, a policy of conciliation and concession, dictated by the enlarged wisdom of Burke, and adopted by the magnanimous candour of Fox. Yet by a generous people, who always find it more difficult to resist a liberal than an illiberal administration, it was, in reality, a policy more to be feared than welcomed; for its almost certain effects were to divide their ranks into two sections - a moderate and an extreme party - between whom the national cause, only half established, might run great danger of being lost, almost as soon as it was won.
With the Duke of Portland was associated, as Chief Secretary, Colonel Fitzpatrick, of the old Ossory family, one of those Irish wits and men of fashion, who form so striking a group in the middle and later years of King George III. As the personal and political friend of Flood, Charlemont, and Grattan, and the first Irish secretary for several administrations, he shared the brilliant ovation with which the Duke of Portland was received, on his arrival at Dublin; but for the reason already mentioned, the imperial, in so far as opposed to the national policy, found an additional advantage in the social successes and great personal popularity of the new secretary.
The critical months which decided the contest for independence - April and May - passed over fortunately for Ireland. The firmness of the leaders in both Houses, the energy especially of Grattan, whose cry was "No time, no time!" and the imposing attitude of the volunteers, carried the question. Lord Rockingham and Mr. Fox by letter, the new Viceroy and Secretary in person, had urged every argument for adjournment and delay, but Grattan's ultimatum was sent over to England, and finally and formally accepted. The demands were five. I. The repeal of the 6th of George I. II. The repeal of the Perpetual Mutiny Act. III. An Act to abolish the alteration or suppression of Bills. IV. An Act to establish the final jurisdiction of the Irish Courts and the Irish House of Lords. V. The repeal of Poyning's Law. This was the constitutional charter of 1782, which restored Ireland, for the first time in that century, to the rank and dignity of a free nation.
Concession once determined on, the necessary bills were introduced in both Parliaments simultaneously, and carried promptly into law. On the 27th of May, the Irish Houses were enabled to congratulate the Viceroy that "no constitutional question any longer existed between the two countries." In England it was proclaimed no less explicitly by Fox and his friends, that the independency of the two legislatures "was fixed and ascertained for ever." But there was, unfortunately, one ground for dispute still left, and on that ground Henry Flood and Henry Grattan parted, never to be reconciled.
The elder Patriot, whose conduct from the moment of his retirement from office, in consequence of his Free Trade vote and speech in '79, had been, with occasional exceptions, arising mostly from bodily infirmity, as energetic and consistent as that of Grattan himself, saw no sufficient constitutional guarantee in mere acts of Parliament repealing other acts. He demanded "express renunciation" of legislative supremacy on the part of England; while Grattan maintained the sufficiency of "simple repeal." It is possible even in such noble natures as these men had - so strangely are we constituted - that there was a latent sense of personal rivalry, which prompted them to grasp, each, at the larger share of patriotic honour. It is possible that there were other, and inferior men, who exasperated this latent personal rivalry. Flood had once reigned supreme, until Grattan eclipsed him in the sudden splendour of his career. In scholarship and in genius the elder Patriot was, taken all in all, the full peer of his successor; but Grattan had the national temperament, and he found his way more readily into the core of the national heart; he was the man of the later, the bolder, and the more liberal school; and such was the rapidity of his movements, that even Flood, from '79 to '82, seemed to be his follower, rather than his coadjutor. In the hopeful crisis of the struggle, the slower and more experienced statesman was for the moment lost sight of. The leading motions were all placed or left in the hands of Grattan by the consent of their leading friends; the bills repealing the Mutiny Act, the 6th George I., and Poyning's law, were entrusted to Burgh, Yelverton, and Forbes; the thanks of the House were voted to Grattan alone after the victory, with the substantial addition of 50,000 pounds to purchase for him an estate, which should become an enduring monument of the national gratitude.