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This policy had been acted upon until it seemed to have become the fundamental law of the kingdom, and while the efforts of the government had been directed rather to perpetuate So much of this system as could be preserved, than to reform it altogether, the progress of society in political science and intelligence, brought the Irish people into direct collision with the British government. For several years previous to the period alluded to, they had shown symp. toms of impatience at their galling yoke, which should have warned England of the danger of persisting in her infatuated policy. But the French revolution kindled a flame, which found in Ireland materials too well prepared to extend the sphere of its action. The doc. trines of freedom promulgated in that moment of enthusiasm, met with a ready response from thousands of Irishmen, oppressed and degraded, but still sanguine and enthusiastic. They saw in the revolutionary movements of France, a new ground of hope for Ireland, and they determined to use the favourable conjuncture, to effect, if not the emancipation, at least some melioration in the condition of their country.
With this view, in 1791, the association of United Irishmen was instituted, for the purpose of removing the differences previously existing between the Catholics and the Protestants, and of uniting all Irishmen, of whatever faith, into one party, aiming to remove the grievances of which the country so justly complained. Their ob ject was at first the repeal of the Catholic laws; but as they soon found that the influence of the British cabinet was so powerful over
the Irish government, as to prevent any hope of success while the connexion continued, they began to regard freedom as attainable only through the medium of revolution. The short-lived administration of Lord Fitz William, only raised their expectations to blast them the more cruelly; and the decided manner in which all movements towards Catholic emancipation were repressed, by extinguishing all hope of constitutional relief, taught them that their sole chance of success was in an independent government.
The societies of United Irishmen were accordingly revived, in 1795, with increased strength, and the leaders of the revolutionary move. ments began to enrol their names among their members. These associations were organized on the footing of secret societies, and their members were bound by the most sacred oaths to their obligations as United Irishmen. Differences in point of religious faith were gradu. ally forgotten, and they were soon all united as one party in the cause of their common country.
These societies, however, by their constitution, could not com prehend more than thirty-six members, and in order to bring them to act together, a system of representation by committees was instituted in an ascending order, from baronial, county, provincial, to national committees. This constitution was framed by a delegation from various societies convened at Belfast May 10th, 1795.
The national committee consisted of five delegates from each provincial; the provincial, of three delegates from each county; and the county, of two delegates from each baronial committee, which
was formed by a similar delegation from the various societies within the barony. Where the societies in the barony amounted to more than eight, two or more baronial committees were instituted, with the view of preventing any one committee from becoming too numerous. These committees were elected by ballot, once in three months, and the several subordinate committees reported their proceedings to the next highest committee, until the communication reached the national committee. At the head of this organization, compre. hending half a million of persons, was an executive committee, of which Mr. Emmet was a member, and which was in effect a national government. Funds were raised by monthly subscriptions, and were paid into a national treasury. As the plan of organization was ma. tured, it became more apparent that force must be finally resorted to, and a military department was engrafted upon the civil department the latter part of the year 1796, and was mostly composed of the same persons. In order to avoid giving alarm, the ordinary denominations were preserved. The secretary of the primary societies was commonly the sergeant; the delegate from five societies to a baronial committee, was the captain, and the delegate to the next grade was a colonel. These officers were elected, but all of a higher rank were appointed by the executive. Adjutant generals were also appointed by the executive, and through these all military communications were held with the counties. The several societies were thus formed into an organized military body, and each man was directed to pro
vide himself, as far as practicable, with arms, and the necessary munitions of war.
A military committee was formed in 1798, to prepare a plan of operations, and measures were taken to procure aid from France. This aid, however, was to be chiefly limited to arms and money. The number of troops asked for did not exceed 10,000 men. The com. mittee was induced to ask for this small number of troops, because, first, they did not wish to excite any jealousy among their country. men of foreign interference; and, secondly, they were unwilling to give to France too strong a footing in Ireland. Their object was to render Ireland independent under a republican government; and though desirous of the aid of France, they sought it as from an ally, and not as from a protector.
With these views Mr. Emmet joined the association of United Irishmen in 1796, and his talents and character soon obtained him a place in their chief executive committee. In taking this step he gave a most signal proof of his disinterested patriotism. His rank in society, and intellectual powers, would have secured to him the highest stations, had he chosen to join the court party. Fortunately for his true fame, he determined otherwise, and directed all his energies to obtain for his country her political and religious rights.
While in the executive, which was from January until May, 1797, and again from December until March, 1798, Mr. Emmet was most efficient in properly orga. nizing the association. Before, however, they were ready to declare themselves openly, the government discovered their inten.
tions through the treachery of one Thomas Reynolds, who had so far obtained their confidence as to be appointed a provincial delegate from Leinster, and a colonel of a regiment.
In consequence of his disclosures immediate steps were taken to arrest the leaders, and on the twelfth of March, Oliver Bond, and twelve others, were taken into custody at Bond's house, and other distinguished friends of the revolution were arrested at the same time in other places. A proclamation was also issued, announcing the existence of the conspiracy, and the military authorities were authorized to employ the most summary measures to suppress it. Mr. Emmet of course was included among the number arrested, and was thrown, with many others, in the prison of Kilmainham, in Dublin.
This arrest of the leaders, how. ever, did not prevent the general rising, which took place on the 23d of May following, the day appointed for that purpose. As the time approached, the dreadful notes of preparation were manifest in all parts of the country. In the interior the peasantry began to move in large masses to some central points. Night after night they were known to be proceeding along unfrequented roads to their places of rendezvous. The cabins through. out large tracts of country, were either deserted, or found to contain only women and children. The lower classes that were in the habit of flocking to the cities for employment were no longer to be found in their usual places of resort. A general consternation prevailed. Even the measures taken on the part of the government
promised no security. On the con. trary, from their arbitrary and despotic character, they only tended to exasperate the spirit of disaffection. Martial law was proclaimed, and the people were sent in droves to the prisons, until they could contain no more. Prison ships were then employed, and many of the conspirators were informally executed, and many who were innocent were put to death in a summary manner. In this state of things, upon the appointed day explosion took place. Deprived of their chosen leaders, the direction of the revo. lutionary movements fell into the hands of less competent men. After a short but sanguinary struggle, and some partial successes in the counties of Wexford and Wick. low, the insurgents were defeated, and entirely dispersed at the battle of Vinegar Hill, by the army under the command of General Lake, By the latter end of July the go. vernment had entirely succeeded in crushing the rebellion. Shortly after this a French army, about 1200 strong, under General Hum. bert, landed at Killala, on the north-west coast of Ireland, on the 12th of August. It was, however, too late to rally the Irish insurgents, and in less than a fortnight the French were compelled to sur render at discretion. This terminated the struggle for Irish inde. pendence, and we now return to the subject of our biography. During his confinement in Dublin prison, Mr. Emmet was treated with great severity, through the malignant disposition of the chie gaoler. Twenty of the state prisoners were confined in this prison, each in a room about twelve feet square, with a common hall, where, by the connivanee of a subordi
nate keeper, they were permitted to assemble after midnight, and where they remained until nearly the dawn of day, when they quietly retired to their several rooms. Mr. Emmet was denied all intercourse with his family; but his wife, being permitted to visit him towards the close of his imprisonment in Dub. lin, refused to quit the prison except with her husband.
She was peremptorily ordered to leave the room, but she positively refused, and remained with him during his confinement. It was ascertained that orders had been given to the keepers not to permit her to return, in case she left the room where her husband was confined. This order, however, she never gave them an op. portunity of carrying into effect during the time of her hus band's imprisonment in Dublin, except on one occasion, and then under peculiar circumstances. Her child, who had been left with Mr. Emmet's father, was dangerously ill, and upon appealing to the gaoler's wife, herself a mother, Mrs. Emmet was permitted to depart, at the hour of midnight, from the gaol, and the next night, at the same hour, was suffered to return to her husband without the know. ledge of the gaoler.
After Mr. Emmet and his companions had been imprisoned several months, and the insurrection was crushed, a movement was set on foot by Francis Dobbs, with the concurrence of Lord Charlemont, with the view of releasing the state prisoners from their confinement.
A proposition was accordingly made to them on the part of the Irish government, the latter part of July, 1798, with the view of obtaining information from the pri
soners as to their ultimate designs and expectations in their revolu. tionary movements. At first the government demanded names, but as the prisoners unanimously refused to compromit any person, this demand was relinquished, and Mr. Emmet, Dr. M'Neven, and Mr. Arthur O'Connor, were appointed agents on the part of the prisoners to agree upon the terms of the convention. An arrange. ment was finally made, after some negotiation, by which the pri. soners agreed to give to the government certain information respecting the intended alliance between the United Irishmen and France, and other information respecting the intended revolution, provided it did not implicate any individuals; and the government, on its part agreed, that a general amnesty should be granted to all suspected or accused of political offences, except such as were guilty of murder; and it was also stipulated, that this should not be construed to extend to the loss of life in battle. It was also mutually agreed, that the state prisoners should go to the United States.
On the 4th of Aug. accordingly, a memoir was delivered by the agents to the government, containing the promised disclosures. Lord Cornwallis professed to be dissatisfied with this, on account of its being a vindication of the course of the revolutionists.— As the agents refused to alter it, a parol examination was resolved upon, before the secret committees of both houses of the Irish parliament. The deputies, consequently, were examined, and their exami nations being committed to writing, the greater part thereof was pub. lished, with the view of justifying
the Irish government in its arbitrary measures, against a party aiming at independence and alliance with France.
The government admitted that the prisoners had complied with the agreement on their part; but as it was deemed inexpedient to liberate them at once, means were devised, on the part of the court, to prolong their imprisonment. At first, it was industriously circulated by the adherents of government, that the deputation had betrayed their political associates, by divulg. ing their names; but the uneasiness which this report occasioned, was soon quicted by an advertisement, under their own signatures, contradicting this statement.This advertisement they found means to convey to their friends still at large, and on the 27th of August it appeared in two of the Dublin newspapers. This bold and decided step on the part of the prisoners, exasperated the minis. ters, and they ordered the three agents to be debarred from all in. tercourse with their friends. They also resolved not to carry into ef. fect the compact with the prisoners, and on the 16th of September, 1798, under pretence that the American minister had remonstrated against their being sent to the United States, they were told that they could not be permitted to leave their prison. Not many months
after this deliberate breach of its plighted faith, the British govern. ment determined to remove Mr. Emmet and nineteen of his fellow prisoners to Fort George, on the northeastern coast of Scotland, to be held as hostages for the behaviour of their political associates still at large. Without any pre. vious notice, they were accordingly
removed to this fort, then under the command of Governor Stuart. After an ineffectual application to the Irish government, Mrs. Emmet obtained permission from the Bri. tish government to share the imprisonment of her husband, and remained with him until his final liberation.
During their residence at Fort George, the Irish prisoners were treated with great kindness by Governor Stuart, who told them, upon their arrival, that it was his intention to treat them like gen. tlemen. This footing was of course gladly acceded to, and Governor Stuart never had occasion to repent of a noble confidence which endeared him to the prisoners under his charge.
After the peace of Amiens, the government at last determined to carry into effect its agreement with the prisoners. A list of pardons was transmitted to governor Stuart, of all the prisoners but Mr. Emmet. Gov. Stuart sent for Mr. Emmet, and told him of this omission; but could not give any information as to its being intentional or accidental. At length, the Go. vernor told him that he would assume the responsibility of releasing him with the rest of the prisoners; and the next morning they wore all discharged, and, with the exception of four, who were permitted to return to Ireland, they were conveyed in a frigate to the river Elbe, where they were landed near Hamburgh.
Mr. Emmet's health had been impaired by his long imprisonment; and, during his residence on the continent, he devoted himself to renovate his shattered constitution. The winter of 1802 was spent in Brussels, where he saw his gallant,