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SPEECH, OF MR. CURRAN,
ON THE TRIAL OF ARCHIBALD HAMILTON ROWAN, ESQUIRE,
FOR THE PUBLICATION OF A LIBEL.
AT the dawn of that spirit of faction, and disloyalty in Ireland, which soon afterwards burst forth in open rebellion, and afflicted the country with the train of horrible consequences incident to civil commotions, ARCHIBALD HAMILTON Rowan, a gentlemen, uniting to the advantages of birth, superiour talents, elegant accomplishments, and untarnished reputation was, seduced by the warmth of a mistaken zeal arising partly out of the temper of the times, and inflamed by the generous enthusiasm of his nature into those schemes which, under the immediate pretence of redressing certain grievances, had, as events proved, their ulteriour views fixed on a dissolution of the existing connexion with Great Britain, and the erection of an independent republican government.
At a special meeting convened on the 16th December, 1792, of the United Irishmen, a society, professing to have for its objects the redress of these grievances by procuring the abolition of all legal tests and proscriptions, the entire emancipation of the Catholicks, and a radical reform in parliament, the subsequent paper was distributed by Mr. Rowan, exhorting the Irish volunteers in an animated appeal to their patriotism and prejudices to rouze to arms, &c.
“ YOU first took up arms to protect your country from foreign enemies and from domestick disturbance; for the same purposes it now becomes necessary that you should resume them; a proclamation has been issued in England for embodying the militia, and a proclamation has been issued by the lord lieutenant and council in Ireland, for repressing all seditious associations; in consequence of both these proclamations it is reasonable to apprehend danger from abroad and danger at home, for whence but from apprehended danger are these menacing preparations for war, drawn through the streets of this capital or whence if not to create that internal commotion which was not found, to shake that credit which was not affected, to blast that volunteer honour which was hitherto inviolate, are those terrible suggestions and rumours and whispers that meet us at every corner, and agitate at least our old men, our women, and children; whatever be the motive, or from whatever quarter it arises, alarm has arisen ; and you, volunteers of Ireland, are therefore summoned to arms at the instance of government as well as by the responsibility attached to your character, and the permanent obligations of your institution. We will not at this day condescend to quote authorities for the right of having and of using arms; but we will cry aloud, even amidst the storm raised by the witchcraft of a proclamation, that to your formation was owing the peace and protection of this island, to your relaxation has been owing its relapse into impotence and insignificance, to your renovation must be owing its future freedom and its present tranquillity. You are therefore summoned to arms, in order to preserve your country in that guarded quiet which may secure it from external hostility, and to maintain that internal regimen throughout the land, which superceding a notorious police or a suspected militia, may preserve the blessings of peace by a vigilant preparation for war.-Citizen sol. diers, to arms! take up the shield of freedom and the pledges of peace -- peace, the motive and end of your virtuous institution-war, an occasional duty, ought never to be made an occupation. Every man should become a soldier in defence of his rights: no man ought to continue a soldier for offending the rights of others. The sacrifice of life in the service of our country is a duty much too honourable to be intrusted to mercenaries, and at this time, when your country has, by publick authority, been declared in danger, we conjure you by your
interest, your duty, and your glory, to stand to your arms, and in spite of a police, in spite of a fencible militia, in virtue of two proclamations, to maintain good order in your vicinage, and tranquillity in Ireland. It is only by the military array of men in whom they confide, whom they have been accustomed to revere as the guardians of domestick peace, the protectors of their liberties and lives, that the present agitation of the people can be stilled, that tumult and licentiousness can be repressed, obedience secured to existing law, and a calm confidence dif
fused through the publick mind in the speedy resurrection of a free constitution, of liberty and equality, words which we use for an opportunity of repelling calumny, and of say. ing, that by liberty we never understood unlimited freedom, nor by equality the leveling of property or the destruction of subordination ; this is a calumny invented by that faction, or that gang, which misrepresents the king to the people, and the people to the king, traduces one half of the nation to cajole the other, and by keeping up distrust and division, wishes to continue the proud arbitrators of the fora tune and fate of Ireland. Liberty is the exercise of all our rights, natural and political, secured to us and our posterity by a real representation of the people ; and equality is the extension of the constituent to the fullest dimensions of the constitution, of the elective franchise to the whole body of the people, to the end that government, which is collective power, may be guided by collective will, and that legislation may originate from publick reason, keep pace with publick improvement, and terminate in publick happiness. If our constitution be imperfect, nothing but a reform in the representation will rectify its abuses: if it be perfect, nothing but the same reform will perpetuate its blessings. We now address you as citizens, for to be citizens you became sol. diers, nor can we help wishing that all soldiers partaking the passions and interest of the people would remember, that they were once citizens, that seduction made them soldiers, but nature made them men. We address you without any authority save that of reason, and if we obtain the coincidence of publick opinion, it is neither by force nor stratagem; for we have no power to terrify, no artifice to cajole, no fund to seduce. Here we sit without mace or beadle, neither a mystery nor a craft, nor a corporation. In four words lies all our power-universal emancipation and representative legislatureyet we are confident that on the pivot of this principle, a convention, still less a society, still less a single man, will be able first to move and then to raise the world. We therefore wish for Catholick emancipation without any modification, but still we consider this enfranchisement as merely the por. tal to the temple of freedom. Wide as this entrance is, wide enough to admit three millions, it is narrow when compared to the capacity and comprehension of our beloved principle, which takes in every individual of the Irish nation, casts an equal eye over the whole island, embraces all that think, and feels for all that suffer. The Catholick cause is subordinate to our cause, and included in it; for, as united Irishmen, we adhere to no sect, but lo society, to no cause, but Christianity-to no party, but the whole people. In the sincerity of our souls do we desire Catholick emancipation : but were it obtained to morrow, to morro:v would we go on as we do to day, in the pursuit of that reform, which would still be wanting to ratify their liberties as well as our own. For both these purposes it appears necessary, that provincial conventions should assemble preparatory to the convention of the Protestant people. The delegates of the Catholick body are not justified in communicating with individuals or even bodies of inferiour authority, and therefore an assembly of sim lar nature and organization is necessary to establish an intercourse of sentiments, a uniformity of conduct, a united cause, and a united nation ; if a convention on the one part does not soon follow, and is not soon connected with that on the other, the common cause will split into partial interests, the people will relapse into inattention and inertness, the union of affection and exertion will dissolve, and too probably some local insurrections, instigated by the malignity of our common enemy, may commit the character and risk the tranquillity of the island, which can be obviated only by an assembly arising from, assimilated with the people, and whose spirit may be, as it were, knit with the soul of the nation. Unless the sense of the Protestant people be on their part as fairly collected and as judiciously directed, unless individual exertion consolidates into collective strength, unless the particles unite into one mass, we may perhaps serve some person or some party for a little, but the publick not at all. The nation is neither insolent, nor rebellious, nor sedi. tious. While it knows its rights, it is unwilling to manifest its powers. It would rather supplicate administration to anticipate revolution, by well-timed reform, and to save their country in mercy to themselves. The 15th of February approaches, a day ever memorable in the annals of this country as the birth day of new Ireland. Let parochial meetings be held as soon as possible, let each parish return delegates, let the sense of Ulster be again declared from Dungannon on a day auspicious to union, peace and freedom, and the spirit of the North will again become the spirit of the nation. The civil assembly ought to claim the attendance of the military associations, and we have addressed you, citizen soldiers, on this subject from the belief, that your body uniting conviction with zeal, and zeal with activity, may have much influence over your countrymen, your relations and friends. We offer only a general outline to the publick, and meaning to address Ireland, presume not at present to fill up the plan or preoccupy the mode of its execution. We have thought it our duty to speak.—Answer us by actions. You have taken time for consideration. Fourteen long years have elapsed since the rise of our associations; and, in 1782, did you imagine that in 1792 this nation would still remain unrepresented ? How many nations in this interval have gotten the start of Ireland ? How many