Assess the causes of the Act of Union of 1800, and consider the ways in which the Articles of Union themselves were intended to solve the apparent problems in Ireland’s constitutional, political and religious relationship with England. Your essay must make reference to the relevant document studied in seminar 5. There were several significant causes of the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland in 1800, most notably, the United Irishmen rebellion of 1798, along with the French landing at Killala in North Mayo.
The United Irishmen, a radical mixed religious group, had began a campaign against British rule in Ireland in 1798.
This rebellion was centered around Wexford, Wicklow and a protestant linen worker rebellion in Antrim. The rebellion was poorly organized and coordinated, and many parts of the country were left undisturbed. Although it was yet another rebellion by the Irish that was defeated, it fast forwarded the long standing idea that a political, constitutional and military union was needed between the two countries to prevent further war, or even worse, for Ireland to become a stepping stone in a French invasion of The British Isles.
The worry about a French invasion starting in Ireland was compounded by a small French landing in north Mayo, that led to two battles, at Castlebar and Ballinamuck. The French landing was requested by Wolfe Tone, a protestant who was viewed as the leader of the United Irishmen. Wolfe Tone was influenced by the French and American Revolutions, and passed this influence onto the United Irishmen. The fact that the American Revolution had occurred so recently also had another major bearing on the Act of Union. the British parliament did not want to lose another colony, especially not one this close to home.
This most likely would have being seen as a major weakness by the other European powers of the time. The French revolution, which promised freedom to all religions and races, and equal rights to all men would also have being seen as a threat to George III, the current monarch, who’s Coronation Oath held him to uphold and secure the Protestant faith. Article Fifth of the Act of Union combined the Church of Ireland and the Church of England into one central Protestant Episcopal Church. It also made the protestant faith the official religion of Ireland.
The unity of the churches would also have bred the hope that more of the Catholic majority in Ireland would be converted. This would have being a vital cause for the union getting voted through the all protestant Irish parliament, as the protestants were outnumbered by Catholics in the general population at a ratio of 3:11. Should the Act of Union pass, they would be on the opposite side, it would be a 3:11 protestant majority. On a related topic, Robert Peel had earlier being responsible for the ending of several of the penal laws, all since the threat of war began in France.
In 1793 Catholics could vote and become lawyers for the first time. He also played a part in the repeal of Poynings Law, which allowed the Irish parliament to enact its own laws without influence from London for the first time since the Norman Invasion. However, vitally, he could not hold his nerve to repeal the Penal law that stopped Catholics from holding a place in parliament and many Irish people would have thought this was the most important, as they could only vote for the entirely protestant government.
Pitt had supported the Act Of Union in 1800, but had originally planned to follow it with more far reaching ideas, such as Catholic emancipation. However George III, after signing the Act of Union into law in August 1800, refused to support full Catholic emancipation on the basis that it would be contrary to his Coronation Oath. While the Act of Union was defeated the first time in the Irish parliament, it was passed on the second time of asking. Certain peerages, pensions and certain honors were offered to Irish politicians and Irish critics in return for voting for the act in the second time of asking.
The first attempt to pass the law was beaten 109 votes against to 104 votes for, but, on the second time of asking in 1800, the results showed 150 for, compared to 115 against. Also, since the repeal of Poynings law, the Irish had being in charge of their own finances, and had bankrupt the country. When much the same thing had happened to Scotland in the 17th century, a Union with Britain had helped the Scottish overcome their financial difficulties. The Act of Union was intended to solve many of Irelands problems in different ways.
Article first stated that Ireland and Britain would ‘be united into one Kingdom, by the Name of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland’. This essentially made Ireland a sister kingdom to Britain, with the same laws, religion and parliament. However as time showed, these sister kingdoms were not treated equally, with very little worry being given to the Great Famine of 1845-49. Although it may initially have being seen to calm some insurgency in Ireland, it was not a suitable long-term arrangement unless great measures were taken to assimilate the large Catholic majority.
These measures were not taken, and Catholic Ireland still felt like it was being given the short straw without emancipation. Article Second simply stated that the continuation of the Imperial Crown ‘shall continue limited and settled in the same manner as the Succession to the Imperial Crown of the said Kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland’. This was to ensure that a protestant was always going to be in power as a monarch in Great Britain, and that the new Union with Ireland would not have an influence on the process of picking a new king or queen.
The third article was perhaps the most important in terms of change, as it was the article that fully combined the two parliaments into a single entity. This was the most influential article, as it caused many of the upper class representatives that Ireland would have to move out of Dublin and over to London, to be closer to political affairs. This caused a decline in the importance of Dublin as a major European city, and shifted most of the influential Irish people out of the country.
It may also have lead to the idea of Absentee landlords, another thing that was seen by the Irish as a cause of the Great Famine. Article Fourth was simply involved in the representation of Ireland in the new parliament. The election of 28 Electoral Lords for life would have guaranteed a continuation of protestant ascendancy in the British House of Lords. This would not have went well with the catholic majority of Ireland as they would have zero representation in the House of Lords, which had the ability to veto any laws passed by the House of Commons.
Any chance of a law hat passed a pro-Catholic law would have being immediately put down by the protestant powers in the House of Lords, so even if George III did not veto the hopes for Catholic emancipation then the House of Lords would surely have. The 8th article was a constitutional article that ensured the continuation of all laws from before the act, in both Britain and Ireland. It stated ‘That all Laws in force at the time of the Union, and all the Courts of Civil and Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction within the respective Kingdoms, shall remain as now by Law established within the same’
This was a safety mechanism to prevent any problems with the transition between separate and united kingdom’s. If this article had not being put in place then, theoretically the parliament in London would have had to enact new laws that could potentially damage the political and hostile situation in Ireland. As you can see, the Act of Union was hoped to be a permanent solution to the problems in Ireland, and planned to consolidate the British Isles under one rulership.
The Articles in the Act of Union attempted to promote the protestant faith, in particular the Anglican faith, in Ireland, and in the long term hoped to transform the rebellious Catholic majority into equal citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Although it was unsuccessful in the long run, it was a historic event that worked in other parts of the empire, such as Scotland.