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  • Mathew Carey’s Irish Apprenticeship:Editing the Volunteers Journal, 1783–84
  • James Kelly (bio)

When Mathew Carey presented the first issue of the Volunteers Journal to the public on 13 October 1783, he did so with an explicit political objective. Announcing the arrival of “a new patriotic paper devoted to the great purpose of perpetuating and extending that public spirit” which the Volunteers epitomized, he committed the new newspaper to the ongoing cause of “the glorious renovation of our constitution.”1 Carey’s evocation of the Glorious Revolution was not accidental. Like most champions of the Volunteers, he esteemed the contractual system of government brought into being in 1688–89, but he also shared the conviction of Whigs throughout the Atlantic world that it had been compromised by a surge in aristocratic influence since George III’s accession to the throne, and that it required reform.2 As an Irish Catholic and an admirer of the Patriots, he also drew inspiration from recent events in Ireland. Invoking “the noble ardour which animates all ranks of Irishmen,” and specifically the “glorious efforts of the Volunteers” to achieve those “important objects for which we have been so long contending”—free trade and legislative independence—he agreed with the more thoughtful members of the Patriot interest that further reform was necessary. They were [End Page 201] convinced that the security of these hard-won commercial and constitutional concessions was not assured so long as the electoral and representative systems continued to function in a partial and partisan fashion. Referring specifically to the threat posed “by corruption and intrigue,” which he identified with the prevailing “baleful aristocratic influence,” Carey endorsed the “present laudable resolution” to reform the representative system. Eager that the new newspaper would assist in achieving this objective, he pronounced combatively in the first issue that “the ends proposed in the establishment of The Volunteers Journal” were “to watch and detect the views and projects of corrupters and corrupted—to drag such traitors to the sacred rights of our country before the public eye, and, finally, to unite in the closest bonds of harmony and concord every denomination of Irishman—and to extend that benevolent spirit of toleration which distinguishes the present enlightened age.”3 Even by the standards of the eighteenth century this was an assertively political manifesto. But it reflected Carey’s conviction that the desired “renovation” of the political landscape would not be complete until it had remedied the weaknesses of the electoral and representative systems; this goal necessarily involved the admission of Catholics to the political nation, to which he—a Catholic—was particularly committed.

The heady atmosphere of the late 1770s and early 1780s encouraged the more liberal and optimistic elements within the broad church that was Irish Patriotism to embrace a social and political vision that transcended the confessional and sectarian distinctions that characterized eighteenth-century Ireland. Prompted by the easing in the 1750s and 1760s of the political as well as religious antipathies that sustained such divisions, these Patriots were heartened in the mid-1770s by the preparedness of the Catholic Committee, which was the representative voice of organized Catholic opinion, to appeal to Catholics to profess loyalty to the state; the Patriots were also stimulated by influential Catholic opinion formers—the Cork Capuchin priest Arthur O’Leary most notably—to articulate a social, religious, and political vision that aspired to religious toleration.4 The impact of the resulting thaw in confessional suspicion [End Page 202] was clearly identifiable in 1778 when even traditional champions of the “Protestant constitution in church and state” expressed a willingness to permit Catholics to practice their religion free from the threat of legal sanction, and to dismantle the barriers in the way of Catholic participation in the economic life of the kingdom. These Protestants drew a line, however, at the admission of Catholics to the political process. Indeed, such was their unease at the prospect that Catholics might capitalize on the removal of the restrictions precluding them from purchasing land that Catholics were specifically prevented by statute from buying property in parliamentary boroughs.5 The fears for the Protestant constitution that informed such actions were deeply...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1550-5162
Print ISSN
0013-2683
Pages
pp. 201-243
Launched on MUSE
2014-11-26
Open Access
No
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