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Irish Politics and Social Conflict in the Age of the American Revolution

By Maurice R. O'Connell

Publication Year: 2007

In the midst of great expansion and economic growth in the eighteenth century, Ireland was deeply divided along racial, religious, and economic lines. More than two thirds of the population were Catholic, but nearly all the landowners were Anglican. The minority also comprised practically the entire body of lawyers, officers in the army and navy, and holders of political positions. At the same time, a growing middle class of merchants and manufacturers sought to reform Parliament to gain a real share in the political power monopolized by the aristocracy and landed gentry.

Irish Politics and Social Conflict in the Age of the American Revolution remains one of the few in-depth studies of the effects of the Revolution on Ireland. Focusing on nine important years of Irish history, 1775 to 1783, from the outbreak of war in colonial America to the year following its conclusion, the book details the social and political conditions of a period crucial to the development of Irish nationalism. Drawing extensively on the Dublin press of the time, Maurice R. O'Connell chronicles such important developments as the economic depression in Britain and the Irish movement for free trade, the Catholic Relief Act of 1778, the rise of the Volunteers, the formation of the Patriot group in the Irish Parliament, and the Revolution of 1782.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 3-4


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pp. 7

List of Illustrations

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pp. 9

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pp. 11-12

Despite the appearance of some books and articles on specialized topics, there has been no general study of Irish history at the time of the American Revolution since Lecky's A History of Ireland in the Eighteenth Century. This remarkable work, written about

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I. Introdudion

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pp. 15-24

By the middle of the eighteenth century Ireland had begun to experience a considerable increase in wealth and population. Dublin and many provincial towns were growing in size and architectural significance; the erection of elegant town houses and...

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II. Irish Opinion on the American Revolution

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pp. 25-36

In 1772 Townshend was replaced as viceroy by Lord Harcourt who held the position until the end of 1776. The latter's principal achievement lay in inducing the Irish Parliament to support the British government in attempting to suppress the American Revolution. It was a foregone conclusion that the...

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III. The Origins of the Free Trade Crisis

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pp. 37-67

Towards the end of 1777 an economic .depression settled French entry into the war in March, 1778. There was a consequent difficulty in borrowing, and the number of bankruptcies rose in the succeeding twelve months.' No doubt the Irish economy was affected by the situation in Britain, but the main cause of the depression in Ireland was the American Revolutionary War. It practically destroyed her considerable contraband trade with North America, while the wartime conditions it imposed...

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IV. War with France and the Formation of the Volunteers

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pp. 68-102

In the middle of March, 1778, the Brrtish Government was officially informed by the French ambassador in London of the Franco-American treaties of friendship and commerce. This meant war with France. The British Parliament was informed of this positio┬Ěn on March and both Houses immediately passed addresses of loyalty to the king. The Whigs proposed...

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V. The Catholic Relief Act of 1778

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pp. 103-128

During the last decade of the seventeenth, and the early decades of the eighteenth century, a series of enactments known as the Penal Laws were passed by the Irish Parliament. The primary purpose of these laws was to place and retain in the hands of (Anglican) Protestants all political, administrative, and, as far as possible, economic power. The result was...

Image Plates

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pp. cp1-cp16

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VI. The Free Trade Movement

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pp. 129-167

After the conclusion of the parliamentary session of 1777- 1778, the political situation did not return completely to the calm that normally ensued after the prorogation of parliament. Nevertheless, most of the excitement had died down by winter, and the beginning...

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VII. The Success of Radicalism

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pp. 168-214

The advisers in the Irish Privy Council had been unanimous in agreeing on the manner in which the opening session of the House of Commons should be conducted, and even the pessimistic Beresford was confident of success.1 When the Speech from the...

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VIII. The Assault on Imperial Control

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pp. 215-246

Fresh from their victory on Free Trade, the Patriots now moved on to their next objective. Their aim-to free the Irish Parliament from British control and make it more responsive to Irish public opinion-involved a two-fold struggle. The first struggle was...

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IX. The Collapse of Radicalism

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pp. 247-257

The failure of the Patriots in the case of the Declaratory Act and Poyning's Law was an indication that the Government was beginning to recover its control of the legislature. The fact that both measures were opposed by the pro-government members only on ground of expediency, and not on any admission...

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X. Class Conflicts and the Failure of Radicalism in 1780

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pp. 258-298

The collapse of radicalism in 1780 has been recorded by historians, but they have not attempted to give an adequate explanation for this surprising reversal of political trends after the great victory of the Patriots on Free Trade. Bribery has been seen as the main reason for the Government's recovery of control of the Parliament. Undoubtedly Buckinghamshire's use of rewards...

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XI. Carlisle's Quiet Year

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pp. 299-318

During the comparative quiet that followed the hectic spring and summer of 1780, the new viceroy arrived to take over from the exhausted Buckinghamshire.. He was Frederick (Howard), fifth Earl of Carlisle, a member of the wealthiest English aristocracy. His home in...

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XII. The Revolution of 1782

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pp. 319-348

The Government and the Parliament had failed to take sufficiently into account the significance of the intense activity of the Volunteers in 1781. Their manoeuvres could scarcely fail to stir up radical feeling and indignation with a legislature which continually gave sweeping majorities to unpopular measures...

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XIII. The Catholic Relief Acts of 1782

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pp. 349-362

In addition to the constitutional issues, the year 1782 was noteworthy for the passing of two acts in favor of the Catholics. Again, as in 1778, the sponsor was Luke Gardiner; he was supported by John Dillon, of Lismullen, Navan, Co. Meath, a member of an...

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XIV. Class Conflict and Parliamentary Reform

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pp. 363-398

Once the renunciation issue had been settled and constitutional independence accepted by all, parliamentary reform became the major topic of political interest. It is an historical truism that the British House of Commons at this time was archaic and corrupt in its representative structure; the Irish House was altogether worse...

Appendix A

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pp. 399

Appendix B

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pp. 400

Appendix C

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pp. 401-403


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pp. 404-413


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pp. 415-444

E-ISBN-13: 9780812200973
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812220100

Page Count: 464
Publication Year: 2007