The accession of King George II. in 1727, led to no considerable changes, either in England or Ireland. Sir Robert Walpole continued supreme in the one country, and Primate Boulter in the other. The Jacobites, disheartened by their ill success in 1715, and repelled rather than attracted by the austere character of him they called King James III., made no sign. The new King's first act was to make public the declaration he had addressed to the Privy Council, of his firm resolution to uphold the existing constitution "in church and state."
The Catholic population, beginning once more to raise their heads, thought this a suitable occasion to present a humble and loyal address of congratulation to the Lords Justices, in the absence of the Viceroy. Lord Delvin and several of their number accordingly appeared at the Castle, and delivered their address, which they begged might be forwarded to the foot of the throne. No notice whatever was taken of this document, either at Dublin or London, nor were the class who signed it permitted by law to "testify their allegiance" to the sovereign, for fifty years later--down to 1778.
The Duke of Dorset, who succeeded Lord Carteret as Viceroy in 1731, unlike his immediate predecessor, refrained from suggesting additional severities against the Catholics. His first term of office--two years--was almost entirely occupied with the fiercest controversy which had ever waged in Ireland between the Established Church and the Protestant Dissenters. The ground of the dispute was the sacramental test, imposed by law upon the members of both Houses, and all burgesses and councillors of corporate towns. By the operations of this law, when rigidly enforced, Presbyterians and other dissenters were as effectually excluded from political and municipal offices as Catholics themselves. Against this exclusion it was natural that a body so numerous, and possessed of so much property, especially in Ulster, should make a vigorous resistance. Relying on the great share they had in the revolution, they endeavoured, though ineffectually, to obtain under King William the repeal of the Test Act of King Charles II. Under Queen Anne they were equally unsuccessful, as we may still read with interest in the pages of Swift, De Foe, Tennison, Boyse, and King. Swift, especially, brought to the controversy not only the zeal of a churchman, but the prejudices of an Anglo-Irishman, against the new-comers in the north. He upbraids them in 1708, as glad to leave then--barren hills of Lochaber for the fruitful vales of Down and Antrim, for their parsimony and their clannishness. He denied to them, with bitter scorn, the title they had assumed of "Brother Protestants," and as to the Papists, whom they affected to despise, they were, in his opinion, as much superior to the Dissenters, as a lion, though chained and clipped of its claws, is a stronger and nobler animal than an angry cat, at liberty to fly at the throats of true churchmen. The language of the Presbyterian champions was equally bold, denunciatory, and explicit. They broadly intimated, in a memorial to Parliament, that under the operation of the test, they would be unable to take up arms again, as they had done in 1688, for the maintenance of the Protestant succession; a covert menace of insurrection, which Swift and their other opponents did not fail to make the most of. Still farther to embarrass them, Swift got up a paper making out a much stronger case in favour of the Catholics than of "their brethren, the Dissenters," and the controversy closed, for that age, in the complete triumph of the established clergy.
This iniquitous deprivation of equal civil rights, accompanied with the onerous burthen of tithes falling heaviest on the cultivators of the soil, produced the first great Irish exodus to the North American colonies. The tithe of agistment or pasturage, lately abolished, had made the tithe of tillage more unjust and unequal. Outraged in their dearest civil and religious rights, thousands of the Scoto-Irish of Ulster, and the Milesian and Anglo-Irish of the other provinces, preferred to encounter the perils of an Atlantic flitting rather than abide under the yoke and lash of such an oligarchy. In the year 1729, five thousand six hundred Irish landed at the single port of Philadelphia; in the next ten years they furnished to the Carolinas and Georgia the majority of their immigrants; before the end of this reign, several thousands of heads of families, all bred and married in Ireland, were rearing up a free posterity along the slopes of the Blue Ridge in Virginia and Maryland, and even as far north as the valleys of the Hudson and the Merrimac. In the ranks of the thirteen United Colonies, the descendants of those Nonconformists were to repeat, for the benefit of George III., the lesson and example their ancestors had taught to James II. at Enniskillen and at Derry.
Swift, with all his services to his own order, disliked, and was disliked by them. Of the bishops he has recorded his utter contempt in some of the most cutting couplets that even he ever wrote. Boulter he detested; Narcissus Marsh he despised; with Dr. King of Dublin, Dr. Bolton of Cashel, and Dr. Horte of Tuam, he barely kept up appearances. Except Sterne, Bishop of Clogher, Berkely, Bishop of Cloyne, and Stopford, his successor, he entertained neither friendship nor respect for one of that order. And on their part, the right reverend prelates cordially reciprocated his antipathy. They resisted his being made a member of the Linen Board, a Justice of the Peace, or a Visitor of Trinity College. Had he appeared amongst them in Parliament as their peer, they would have been compelled to accept him as a master, or combine against him as an enemy. No wonder, then, that successive Viceroys shrank from nominating him to any of the mitres which death had emptied; "the original sin of his birth" was aggravated in their eyes by the actual sin of his patriotism. No wonder the sheets of paper that littered his desk, before he sunk into his last sad scene of dotage, were found scribbled all over with his favourite lines--
But the seeds of manly thought he had so broadly sown, though for a season hidden even from the sight of the sower, were not dead, nor undergoing decay. With something of the prudence of the founder, "the Patriot party," as the opposition to the Castle party began to be called, occupied themselves at first with questions of taxation and expenditure. In 1729, the Castle attempted to make it appear that there was a deficit--that in short "the country owed the government"--the large sum of 274,000 pounds! The Patriots met this claim, by a motion for reducing the cost of all public establishments. This was the chosen ground of both parties, and a more popularly intelligible ground could not be taken. Between retrenchment and extravagance, between high taxes and low, even the least educated of the people could easily decide; and thenceforward for upwards of twenty years, no session was held without a spirited debate on the supplies, and the whole subject of the public expenditure.
The Duke of Devonshire, who succeeded the Duke of Dorset as Viceroy in 1737, contributed by his private munificence and lavish hospitalities to throw a factitious popularity round his administration. No Dublin tradesman could find it in his heart to vote against the nominee of so liberal a nobleman, and the public opinion of Dublin was as yet the public opinion of Ireland. But the Patriot party, though unable to stem successfully the tide of corruption and seduction thus let loose, held their difficult position in the legislature with great gallantry and ability. New men had arisen during the dotage of Swift, who revered his maxims, and imitated his prudence. Henry Boyle, speaker of the House of Commons, afterwards Earl of Shannon; Anthony Malone--son of the confrere of Sir Toby Butler, and afterwards Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Edward O'Brien, member for Clare, and his son, Sir Lucius, member for Ennis, were the pillars of the party. Out of doors, the most active spirit among the Patriots was Charles Lucas, a native of Clare, who, from his apothecary's shop in Dublin, attempted, not without both talents, zeal and energy, to play the part of Swift, at the press and among the people. His public writings, commenced in 1741, brought him at first persecution and exile, but they afterwards conducted him to the representation of the capital, and an honourable niche in his country's history.
The great event which may be said to divide into two epochs the reign of George II. was the daring invasion of Scotland in 1745, by "the young Pretender"--Charles Edward. This brave and unfortunate Prince, whose adventures will live for ever in Scottish song and romance, was accompanied from France by Sir Thomas Sheridan, Colonel O'Sullivan, and other Irish refugees, still fondly attached to the house of Stuart. It is not to be supposed that these gentlemen would be without correspondents in Ireland, nor that the state of that country could be a matter of indifference to the astute advisers of King George. In reality, Ireland was almost as much their difficulty as Scotland, and their choice of a Viceroy, at this critical moment, showed at once their estimate of the importance of the position, and the talents of the man.
Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, a great name in the world of fashion, in letters, and in diplomacy, is especially memorable to us for his eight months' viceroyalty over Ireland. That office had been long the object of his ambition, and he could hardly have attained it at a time better calculated to draw out his eminent administrative abilities. By temper and conviction opposed to persecution, he connived at Catholic worship under the very walls of the Castle. The sour and jaundiced bigotry of the local oligarchy he encountered with bon mots and raillery. The only "dangerous Papist" he had seen in Ireland, he declared to the King on his return, was a celebrated beauty of that religion--Miss Palmer. Relying on the magical effect of doing justice to all classes, and seeing justice done, he was enabled to spare four regiments of troops for the war in Scotland, instead of demanding additions to the Irish garrisons. But whether to diminish the influence which his brilliant administration had created in England, or through the machinations of the oligarchy, still powerful at Dublin, within ten days from the decisive battle of Culloden, he was recalled. The fruits of his policy might be already observed, as he walked on foot, his countess on his arm, to the place of embarkation, amid the acclamations of all ranks and classes of the people, and their affectionate prayers for his speedy return.