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18th Century Ireland - Arthur O'Connor (1763-1852)
Arthur O'Connor was born in Bandon, County Cork but some sources say County Offaly. In 1791 he became a Member of the Irish Parliament for Philipstown (now Daingean) and supported the Catholic Bill of 1795. O'Connor joined the Society of United Irishmen under the influence of Lord Edward Fitzgerald and became one the Society's most radical members.
In 1797 O'Connor published To the Free Electors of the County of Antrim for which he was charged with High Treason but won his case.
In February, 1798, while on route to France to solicit aid for a rebellion in Ireland, O'Connor [under the alias Colonel Morris], James O'Coigley and several others were arrested and charged with High Treason in Margate, England. O'Connor pleaded not guilty to charges of 'conspiracy to rebel' and in May, 1798 he was acquitted but was immediately re-arrested on another charge of High Treason. O'Connor was taken to London and from there to Dublin where he was imprisoned in Kilmainham Gaol in solitary confinement. Again O'Connor won his case and subsequently published A Letter to Lord Castlereagh and The State of Ireland (both 1798). O'Connor journeyed to France where he tried in vain to rally support for another insurrection in Ireland. In Paris he was recognised by Napoleon as the accredited representative of the United Irishmen and, in February, 1804, Napoleon appointed O'Connor General of Division in the French army.
In 1807 O'Connor married Eliza, daughter of the Marquis de Condorcet, a French philosopher, mathematician and political scientist. The couple lived at Chateau Bignon. In 1834 O'Connor returned to Ireland for two months to dispose of his Irish properties. In his retirement O'Connor published many pamphlets and, with his wife Eliza Condorcet, edited the works of Condorcet in 12 volumes (Paris, 1847-1849). Arthur O'Connor died at Bignon on 25th April, 1852. The extract below is from O'Connor's Speech in the House of Commons of Ireland, May 4th, 1795 on the occasion of the Debate on the Catholic Bill.©
Look round the world, and you will find in those countries where foreign commerce is
discouraged, and where the invention of the press is unknown, that despotism uniformly
prevails over liberty: Look to China and the East Indies; Look to Persia, to the Ottoman
and the African Empires, those immense portions of the globe, where foreign commerce is
discouraged, and where the invention of the press is either disused or unknown, and you
will find the civil and political rights of the people immersed in ignorance, superstition,
and abject servility; the sport of the most rapacious despotism.|
In these countries the ears of the governing powers are never grated with the harsh sounds of the Rights of Man: No, all is despotism on the parts of the governors, all is passive obedience on the part of the people. Turn your eyes from these wretched countries to the several nations of Europe, and you will find how uniformly civil, political, and religious liberty have taken place of civil, political, and religious slavery, in proportion as foreign commerce has been encouraged, and as the press has been protected. See how uniformly these causes and effects correspond; and if anyone of you doubt these great causes are at this moment operating those salutary effects, I refer him to the despots of Europe, and this war in which they have immolated so many human sacrifices, and in which they have deluged all Europe with such torrents of blood, and their present fears for their darling despotism, shall be their answer. But it is some consolation to me to reflect, that the avarice of these despots, which has tempted them to encourage foreign commerce in their dominions, and the vanity or necessity which has led them, or obliged them to give some protection to education and the press, is at this moment sowing the seeds of that independence and knowledge which will one day crush that despotism which even they and their bloodhounds have disgraced.
Impressed with these great and important truths, is it when our country is becoming commercial, under all its artificial advantages - is it when we have thrown off some of the shackles of our trade, and when, by passing this Bill, by creating a people, we shall be enabled to restore it to perfect freedom, that we are to reject this Bill, through fear of destroying posterity?
Is it when knowledge is progressive amongst us, when the youth of the nation are giving such brilliant examples, that liberality of thought is the offspring of education? Is it when our Catholic countrymen are displaying such eminent talents in the pursuit after civil and political liberty, talents which I am sorry to say we have had many examples this night to prove how much more easy it is to vilify, than to rival, or imitate.
Is it under these circumstances we are to entertain fear for posterity? Is it when our countrymen have resumed their reason in such an eminent degree, that we should suspect them of relapsing into ignorance and superstition? Is it when our Catholic countrymen are claiming their civil and political rights, with the address, and firmness of men of enlightened minds, that we should suspect them of relapsing into slavery and a Popish government, basely surrendering the noblest privileges of man?
Never shall such tinsel reasoning make me see the future ruin of my country in the actual freedom of my countrymen; never shall such weak argument dissuade me from an act of immutable justice, where the rights and liberties of millions of my countrymen were at stake upon the issue: no; on this head the prospect is a bright one, and accursed be the man, who, for interested motives, would darken or obscure its lustre.
© Searc's Web Guide 1997-2008
* O'Connor was alluding to the Dublin students who preferred going to Francis Street Chapel, where the Catholic delegates were giving an account of their reception at St. James Court, than attending Lord Camden with an address on the occasion of his inauguration as Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.
** Referring to the speeches made at Francis Street Chapel by Messrs Keough; McNevin; Ryan and Leivins which were condemned by MP's in their speeches in opposition to the Catholic Bill.©