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Henry Grattan was born in Dublin on 3 July 1746. His father was a Dublin lawyer, MP and member of the ruling Anglo-Irish Protestant class. Grattan was called to the Irish Bar in 1772; in the early 1770s he joined Henry Flood's campaign for national independence. Grattan entered the Irish parliament in December 1775, soon after Flood had forfeited the movement's leadership by accepting government office. Initially, Grattan sat for Lord Charlemont's borough of Charlemont; from 1790 he was MP for Dublin city.
By 1778 Henry Grattan's brilliant oratory had made him a leading spokesman of the Irish nationalist agitation. In that year, the Irish Volunteers were established . Their original purpose was to guard Ireland against invasion and to preserve law and order after the British troops that were stationed in Ireland had been sent to the American colonies. The Volunteer movement gained momentum as more and more Irishmen came to sympathize with the American colonists in their war for independence from Great Britain. By 1779 Grattan - with the backing of the Volunteers who provided the muscle to his demands - was strong enough to force Lord North's government to remove most of its restraints on Irish trade; in April 1780 Grattan formally demanded the repeal of Poynings' Law, which had made all legislation passed by the Irish Parliament subject to approval by the English Parliament. Nineteenth century nationalists saw the Irish parliament of 1782-1800 as " Grattan's parliament".
In 1782, the second Marquis of Rockingham's second ministry repealed Poynings' Law and the 1719 Irish Declaratory Act. This was partially in accordance with the Rockinghamite policy of self-determination and partially in response to Grattan's demands and pressure from the Irish Volunteers. Despite these successes, Grattan soon faced rivalry from Flood, who criticised Grattan for failing to demand that the English Parliament completely renounce all claims to control of Irish legislation. Flood succeeded in undermining Grattan's popularity, but by 1784 Flood himself had lost much of his following because he bought a seat in the Westminster parliament. Rockingham's 1782 legislation was a personal triumph for Grattan, marked by a resolution of the Dublin House of Commons to vow him £50,000 for the purchase of a landed estate.
From 1782 to 1797 Grattan made limited progress in his struggle to reform the composition of the Irish Parliament and to win voting rights for Ireland's Roman Catholics. Having tried to support the government as an independent member, Grattan returned to opposition in 1785. The regency crisis of 1789 completed his re-emergence as a patriot leader. The outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789 aided his cause by taking democratic ideas into Ireland but the subsequent growth of a radical Irish movement for Catholic emancipation provoked repressive measures by England. Though alarmed by the French Revolution and hostile to the United Irishmen, increasingly he was critical of what he saw as government's reactionary response to popular disaffection.
Although he had earlier spoken against permitting Catholics to purchase land, Grattan called for the relaxation of the penal laws. In 1793 he advocated full Catholic emancipation. Ill and discouraged, Grattan retired from Parliament in May 1797 and was in England when the Irish radicals staged an unsuccessful rebellion in 1798. He returned to Parliament for five months in 1800 and waged a vigorous but fruitless campaign against Prime Minister William Pitt's plans for the legislative union of the Irish and English parliaments. In 1804 he began a second parliamentary career; entering the Westminster parliament to support the renewed Catholic agitation. He remained a leading parliamentary advocate of emancipation until his death, as well as a being a prominent Whig spokesman on other issues. However, his support for the veto as a means of reassuring Protestant opinion put him increasingly at odds with O'Connell and other Catholic leaders.
In 1805 Grattan was elected to the English House of Commons, where for the last 15 years of his life he fought for Catholic emancipation. Henry Grattan died on 6 June 1820 in London.
Taken from Sir Lesley Stephen & Sir Sidney Lee (eds.), Dictionary of National Biography: from the earliest times to 1900 (London, Oxford University Press, 1949).
Henry Grattan 1746-1820, statesman, was baptised at St. John's Church, Fishamble Street, Dublin, on 3 July 1746. His father, James Grattan, was for many years recorder of the city of Dublin, and from 1761 to 1766 represented the city in parliament with Charles Lucas, with whom he was in perpetual collision. His mother was Mary, daughter of Thomas Marlay, chief justice of Ireland. He was first sent to a day school kept by Mr. Ball in Great Ship Street, but having been subjected to a degrading punishment, he insisted on leaving the school, and was sent to Mr. Young's in Abbey Street. In 1763 he was attacked by a severe illness, and in the same year entered Trinity College, Dublin, where he became acquainted with John Fitzgibbon, John Foster, Hugh Macaulay, and Robert Day. His most intimate friend at this time was Mr. Broome, who afterwards went into the army. Grattan's father, a choleric, dictatorial man, died in 1766, leaving away from his son the family mansion of Belcamp, which had belonged to the family for upwards of a century. For some time previously they had become estranged on the question of politics. Grattan had already adopted the principles of Lucas, his father's colleague and opponent, and, though he did not openly oppose his father, had too much honesty to conceal his political sympathies.
In the spring of 1767 he took his B.A. degree, and in Michaelmas term was admitted a student of the Middle Temple, London, in order that he might qualify himself for the Irish bar. With his friend Robert Day he shared chambers in the Middle Temple and a house at Sunning Hill, near Windsor Forest. During these early days Grattan led a desultory life. Though he did not read much law, he assiduously practised oratory by daily reciting and transcribing passages from Bolingbroke, Chatham, and the principal Greek and Roman orators. He went but little into society, and his correspondence betrayed a melancholy tone which entirely disappeared in after years. While in London he constantly attended the houses of parliament. In the country he spent the moonlight nights in rambling through the woods, pausing now and then to address a tree in soliloquy. ‘In one of those midnight rambles,’ writes his friend Day, ‘he stopped at a gibbet, and commenced apostrophizing the chains in his usual animated strain, when he suddenly felt a tap on his shoulder, and on turning about was accosted by an unknown person: “How the devil did you get down?” To which the rambler calmly replied, “Sir, I suppose you have some interest in that question”’.
At the end of 1767 Grattan lost his favourite sister Catherine, and in the autumn of 1768 his mother died. In the latter year his eldest sister married Gervase Parker Bushe. This marriage led to a close intimacy with Flood, who resided at Farmly, not far from Bushe's house. Flood was useful to Grattan in many ways, and, above all, in encouraging him to enter political life. With Flood he contributed to the series of political papers in the Freeman's Journal afterwards collected together and published under the title of Baratariana. Grattan's contributions were the dedication to Lord Townshend, the letters signed ‘Posthumus’ and ‘Pericles,’ and the well-known description of Chatham, which was appended as a note to the Ballad on the rejection of the altered Money Bill. In Hilary term 1772 Grattan was called to the Irish bar. Writing to his friend Broome in February 1772, he says: ‘I am now called to the bar, without knowledge or ambition in my profession. The Four Courts are of all places the most disagreeable; the lawyers in general are an ardent, rather than an eloquent society. My purpose is undetermined; my passion is retreat; I am resolved to gratify it at any expense’. He now tried to apply himself seriously to the law, and went circuit, where he lost a case in which he had been specially retained, and was so chagrined at his failure that he returned to the client half the fee. Politics, however, continued to have a greater attraction for Grattan than the law, and whenever he was in Dublin he was a frequent attendant at the club known as ‘The Society of Granby Row,’ to which Lord Charlemont and others of the popular party belonged.
In November 1775 Francis Caulfeild, one of the members for the borough of Charlemont, was drowned with his wife and two daughters on their passage to Dublin, and Grattan, accepting Lord Charlemont's offer of the vacant seat in the Irish parliament, was returned for the borough in the following month. Flood had but a few weeks previously accepted the post of joint vice-treasurer, and the popular cause was in want of an eloquent leader. Grattan quickly made his mark in the house. On 15 December, only four days after he had taken his seat, Grattan made his maiden speech, and opposed the grant of £3,600 a year to the three vice-treasurers, two of whom were absentees. In February 1776 Grattan supported Walter Hussey Burgh in his attack upon the government for laying an embargo by proclamation on the export of provisions from Ireland. In the session of 1777 Grattan again unsuccessfully attacked the embargo, protested against the improper grant of pensions, and condemned the English policy in America. In February 1778 Grattan's motion for an address to the king in favour of economical reform was opposed by Flood, and rejected by 143 to 66 votes. On 12 October 1779 Grattan moved an amendment to the address, declaring that the only effectual remedy for the existing distress in Ireland was ‘to open its ports for exportation of all its manufactures.’
After a long and animated debate, a shorter amendment affirming the necessity of ‘free trade’ was, at the suggestion of Hussey Burgh and Flood, unanimously adopted, and the address thus amended was presented to the lord-lieutenant by the house in a body, the volunteers lining the streets, and presenting arms to the speaker and the members as they proceeded to the castle. On 24 November Grattan followed up his success by carrying a resolution ‘that at this time it would be inexpedient to grant new taxes,’ by 170 to 47, and on the following day supported Trench's motion for granting the loan duties for six months only, which was carried by a majority of thirty-eight. But though in consequence of these remonstrances several bills were passed by the English parliament abolishing many of the restrictions on Irish trade, Grattan felt that these commercial boons, which Lord North had described as ‘resumable at pleasure,’ were exceedingly precarious without legislative independence. In spite of the fears of Charlemont and the remonstrances of Burke, Grattan now made up his mind to obtain the repeal of the Irish act, known as Poynings' Law, by which all bills passed in the Irish parliament, excepting money bills, were subject to revision by the English privy council, and of the English Declaratory Act, which formally asserted the right of the English parliament to legislate for Ireland. On 19 April 1780 he introduced his resolution declaratory of Irish legislative independence, in a speech of wonderful fire. ‘The oration which he made on that occasion,’ says Hardy, ‘can never be forgotten by those that heard it. The language of Milton or Shakespeare can alone describe its effects’. After a debate of fifteen hours the question was indefinitely postponed, and no record of any decision was made in the journals of the house.
In the same year Grattan attempted, without success, to limit the duration of the Perpetual Mutiny Bill. On 13 November 1781 Grattan renewed his attack on the Mutiny Act in the house, and at the same time published a pamphlet attacking its provisions, entitled Observations on the Mutiny Bill, with some Strictures on Lord Buckinghamshire's Administration in Ireland, which went through several editions. At a meeting of delegates from the Ulster volunteers, held at Dungannon on 15 February 1782, the resolutions in favour of legislative independence were unanimously adopted, and an additional resolution approving of the relaxation of the penal laws, which had been drawn up by Grattan without consultation with Charlemont or Flood, was carried with only two dissentients. Strengthened by the adoption of these resolutions, Grattan on 22 February brought forward a motion for an address to the king declaring the rights of Ireland. ‘His speech,’ wrote Carlisle, the lord-lieutenant, ‘was interwoven with expressions of loyalty to the king, and with sentiments of affection to, and inseparable connection with Great Britain, of a disposition to give her every possible assistance, yet with a determination never to yield to the supremacy of the British legislature.’
The attorney-general's motion for the adjournment of the debate was, however, carried by 137 to 68, and the question was once more postponed. On the overthrow of Lord North's ministry, Grattan was offered office, but refused on the ground that ‘office in Ireland was different from office in England; it was not a situation held for Ireland, but held for an English government often in collision with, and frequently hostile to Ireland'. On 16 April Grattan, though hardly recovered from a severe illness, in a magnificent speech for the third time moved the Declaration of Rights. This time it was carried unanimously in both houses, and on 27 May the lord-lieutenant (Duke of Portland) announced that the ‘British legislature have concurred in a resolution to remove the causes of your discontents and jealousies.’ Shortly afterwards the Declaratory Act was repealed by the English parliament, and bills for regulating the passing of Irish acts, repealing Poynings' Law, and the Perpetual Mutiny Bill, and for securing the freedom of election and the independence of the judges were introduced into the Irish parliament and speedily passed.
On 31 May a grant of £50,000 ‘to be laid out in the purchase of lands in the kingdom, to be settled on Henry Grattan, Esq., and his heirs in testimony of the gratitude of this nation for his eminent and unequalled services to this kingdom’ was unanimously agreed to by the House of Commons, and subsequently the Moyanna estate, near Stradbally in Queen's County, was purchased with the money. By his will Grattan left the estate, in the (unfulfilled) event of all his children dying without issue living at the time of their death, ‘in trust to form a foundation for the annual support of unprovided gentlewomen, daughters of poor and meritorious citizens of Dublin’.
Legislative independence having been obtained, Grattan became anxious that the country should have rest after the fierce political excitement it had undergone, and insisted that it was the duty of all Irishmen to extinguish any remaining animosity, and to set about the task of internal administrative reform. In June, however, Flood took up the question of ‘simple repeal,’ and maintained that nothing but a final renunciation of the principle of Irish dependence would give Ireland adequate security. In this view he was strenuously opposed by Grattan, who argued that the principle of Irish dependence was embodied in the Declaratory Act; that consequently its repeal was a resignation of the pretended right, and that to require an express renunciation was ungenerous and distrustful. The lawyer corps and the larger portion of the volunteers supported Flood in his contention, and Grattan's popularity suddenly waned. At the general election in 1783 he was again returned for the borough of Charlemont, and on 28 October, shortly after the meeting of the new parliament, the famous parliamentary battle between Grattan and Flood occurred. In the following month Grattan supported Flood's motion for leave to bring in the Reform Bill, which had been adopted by the convention of delegates from the volunteers. The motion was rejected, and Grattan, being in favour of the immediate disbanding of the volunteers subsequently voted for Yelverton's resolution for supporting the house ‘against all encroachments whatsoever.’
Early in 1785 Orde introduced Pitt's commercial propositions into the Irish House of Commons, which were agreed to after an alteration had been made in them at Grattan's suggestion. Owing to the opposition with which they met in England, the resolutions were so materially altered in the English parliament that when Orde moved for leave to bring in his bill on 12 August 1785, Grattan in a magnificent speech denounced it as fatal to the Irish constitution. The Duke of Rutland, writing to Pitt on the following day, said: ‘The speech of Mr. Grattan was, I understand, a display of the most beautiful eloquence perhaps ever heard, but it was seditious and inflammatory to a degree hardly credible.’ As the Government only obtained a majority of 19, the bill was afterwards withdrawn, and Grattan, owing to the successful opposition which he had made, was restored to his former popularity. In 1786 he vainly attacked the Pension List, which he described as ‘the prodigality, jobbing, misapplication and corruption of every Irish minister since 1727’.
In the following year, though he gave the Riot Bill, which was introduced by the government, his general support, he endeavoured at the same time to mitigate its stringency, and obtained the withdrawal of the most outrageous clause. In order to relieve the intolerable distress of the peasantry, and to remove the chief cause of the Whiteboy disturbances, Grattan, in this year, and also in 1788 and 1789, brought forward the question of tithe commutation. But though his speeches on this subject, the minutest details of which he had thoroughly mastered, were among the best which he ever made, his proposals, excepting those which exempted barren lands from tithes, were invariably rejected. On the meeting of the Irish parliament in February 1789, the question of the regency was immediately discussed. The proposal of the government to proceed by bill was rejected. Grattan insisting that the proper course was to request the Prince of Wales to exercise the full royal authority during the king's illness, supported Connolly's motion to that effect, which was agreed to without a division. In consequence of the lord-lieutenant's refusal to transmit the address, Grattan on 20 February moved a series of resolutions appointing a deputation from the two houses to present the address to the Prince of Wales, asserting the privileges of the House of Commons, and censuring the conduct of the lord-lieutenant.
In June, Grattan, with Lord Charlemont, Ponsonby, and Forbes, founded the Whig Club in Dublin, the objects of which, as Grattan afterwards explained, were ‘to obtain an internal reform of parliament, in which they partly succeeded,’ and ‘to prevent an union, in which they failed’. Hitherto Grattan since the legislative independence of the Irish parliament had given a general but independent support to the government. Disgusted with the system of wholesale corruption pursued by the Castle, he now went into opposition. His motion for a select committee to inquire into the corrupt agreements for the sale of peerages and the purchase of seats in the House of Commons was rejected, on 20 February 1790, by 144 to 88 votes. At the general election in this year Grattan and Lord Henry Fitzgerald were returned at the head of the poll for the city of Dublin. In February 1791 Grattan again brought forward the question of parliamentary corruption without success, and in a speech of great power delivered in the debate on the address in January 1792 once more referred to the subject in the most scathing terms. In the following month he supported Langrishe's Roman Catholic Relief Bill, asserting that ‘the removal of all disabilities is necessary to make the catholic a freeman, and the protestant a people’. In 1793 he unsuccessfully submitted his resolutions on parliamentary reform and for promoting commercial equality between England and Ireland. Though regretting that it did not go far enough, he supported Hobart's Roman Catholic Bill, but strenuously opposed the Convention Bill which passed at the end of the session, pronouncing it to be ‘an anti-whig and unconstitutional measure, and the boldest step that ever yet was made to introduce a military government’. At the opening of the session of 1794 he supported the government on the question of the war with France, asserting that whenever Great Britain ‘should be clearly involved in war, it is my idea that Ireland should grant her a decided and unequivocal support; except that war should be carried on against her own liberty’. He again brought forward the subject of the commercial regulations between England and Ireland, and supported W. B. Ponsonby's Reform Bill, which was rejected by 142 to 44 votes. In the autumn of 1794 Grattan had an interview with Pitt, from whom he understood that the ministers intended to make a change in their policy towards Ireland, and that though they would not bring forward a roman catholic relief bill as a government measure, they would yield it if pressed.
Lord Fitzwilliam, who had failed in persuading Grattan to accept office, arrived in Ireland on 4 Jan. 1795 as the new lord-lieutenant, and immediately set about the work of reform. On 12 February Grattan obtained leave to bring in a bill for the further relief of the Roman catholics. On 24 March Fitzwilliam, who had approved of Grattan's measure, was recalled, and on 21 April Grattan moved for a committee to inquire into the state of the nation, and severely animadverted on the conduct of the ministry. Though defeated by 158 to 48 he determined to proceed with his bill, which was rejected after a long debate in the morning of 5 May by 155 to 84. In the following year he twice brought the question of Irish commerce before the house without any success, and also vainly attempted to amend the Insurrection Bill. In the autumn session he supported Ponsonby in his opposition to the Habeas Corpus Suspension Bill, while his own resolution in favour of allowing Roman catholics to sit in parliament was defeated by 143 to 19.
On 20 March 1797 Grattan protested against General Lake's proclamation, which had put the whole of the province of Ulster under martial law, but his amendment to the address was defeated by 127 to 16. On 15 May he supported W. B. Ponsonby's reform resolutions in an eloquent speech, and addressing the supporters of the government said: ‘“You must subdue before you reform.” Indeed! Alas! you think so; but you forget you subdue by reforming; it is the best conquest you can obtain over your own people; but let me suppose you succeed, what is your success? - a military government, a perfect despotism, an hapless victory over the principles of a mild government and a mild constitution! a union! but what may be the ultimate consequence of such a victory? a separation! - We have offered you our measure, you will reject it; we deprecate yours; you will persevere; having no hopes left to persuade or dissuade, and having discharged our duty, we shall trouble you no more, and after this day shall not attend the House of Commons’. The resolutions were rejected by 117 to 30, and Grattan with the other leaders of the opposition seceded from the house. ‘The reason why we seceded,’ Grattan afterwards explained, ‘was that we did not approve of the conduct of the united men, and we could not approve of the conduct of the government. We were afraid of encouraging the former by making speeches against the latter; and we thought it better in such a case, as we could support neither, to withdraw from both’.
His health having now utterly broken down Grattan retired into the country. He did not offer himself as a candidate for parliament at the general election, but published a ‘Letter to the Citizens of Dublin’, in which he reviewed the conduct of the government and the opposition, and declined to represent them ‘so long as the present state of representation in the commons' house continues.’ In 1798 he went over to England and gave evidence as to character in favour of Arthur O'Connor at his trial at the Maidstone assizes, and remained in this country until after the insurrection had been quelled. About this time he drew up a ‘Declaration and Petition to be presented to His Majesty, containing the principal grounds of the applications made by divers of his Irish Subjects for redress; and also a Vindication of his People against the Traduction of his Ministers', but he stopped the publication of it lest it ‘might inflame instead of allaying or reconciling.’ In this year an utterly groundless charge was brought against him of being a sworn member of the United Irishmen. Though the evidence of the informer was of such a flimsy character that it could not stand a moment's investigation, Grattan's name was struck out of the list of the Irish privy council by the lord-lieutenant on 6 October 1798. The corporations of Dublin and Derry also erased his name from their rolls of freemen, and his picture was taken down from the walls of Dublin University.
On 15 January 1800 the Irish parliament met for its last session. At seven o'clock on the following morning, while the debate on Sir Lawrence Parsons' amendment in favour of legislative independence was still going on, Grattan, who had been returned unopposed for the borough of Wicklow a few hours previously, entered the House of Commons and took the oaths. Shortly afterwards he rose to speak, but finding himself too weak to stand, with the leave of the house addressed it sitting. He spoke for upwards of two hours with astounding eloquence, and denounced the proposed union, and the means which were being employed to bring it about, with withering scorn, exclaiming, ‘The thing he proposes to buy is what cannot be sold - liberty’. In spite of the enthusiasm which this scene aroused the amendment was defeated by 138 to 96.
On 14 February Isaac Corry, the chancellor of the exchequer, moved the first of the resolutions in favour of the union, and made a violent personal attack upon Grattan, whom he charged with encouraging the rebellion. Grattan, in a scathing reply, denied the charge, and on the following morning a duel took place between them at Ball's Bridge, with the result that Corry was wounded in the arm. When the sheriff's officer came on the field to stop the proceedings Major-general Cradock, Corry's second, ‘took the intruder in his arms and deposited him in a little ditch,’ where he remained until the duel was over. In April Grattan published ‘An Answer to a Pamphlet entitled the Speech of the Earl of Clare on the Subject of a Legislative Union between Great Britain and Ireland', in which he replied to Lord Clare's attacks upon himself and his friends. On 26 May the Union Bill was read a second time, and on the same day Grattan made the last of a series of brilliant speeches against the union. It was during this debate that he had a fierce altercation with Lord Castlereagh, who accused him of prophetic treason. Finding that further resistance was useless Grattan gave up the struggle, and retired to Tinnehinch, co. Wicklow, where he amused himself with the study of the classics and the education of his children. In 1801 he refused Lord Fitzwilliam's offer of one of the seats for Peterborough. But, persuaded at length by Fox and Fitzwilliam, he was elected for the borough of Malton in April 1805. Grattan made his maiden speech in the imperial parliament on 13 May in support of Fox's motion for a committee on the Roman catholic petition. Unlike Flood's on a similar occasion, it was a complete success. In the ‘Annual Register’ it is stated to have been ‘one of the most brilliant and eloquent speeches ever pronounced within the walls of parliament’. Pitt is said to have turned round to one of the members who sat near him and exclaimed: ‘Burke told me that Grattan was a great man for a popular assembly, and now I believe it’; and Lord Holland has described the remarkable effect which it produced upon the house.
On the formation of the Ministry of All the Talents in 1806 Grattan was immediately restored to the Irish privy council. At the same time he was offered the post of Irish chancellor of the exchequer, but, preferring to retain complete independence of action, he refused to take office. At the general election in November 1806 he was elected one of the members for the city of Dublin, for which constituency he continued to sit until his death. The contest was a severe and expensive one, but though the Roman catholics subscribed £4,000 to defray the expenses of his election, Grattan declined to accept it. In 1807 Grattan gave his support to the Irish Arms and Insurrection Bills, and in the debate on Sheridan's motion on the state of Ireland defended the course which he had taken with regard to these bills in a speech of great ability.
On 25 May 1808 Grattan's motion for a committee to take into consideration the Roman catholic petition, which he had previously presented, was defeated by 281 to 128. In 1810, 1811, and 1812 Grattan again brought forward the Roman catholic question without success. In February 1813 his motion for a committee to examine into the laws affecting the Roman catholics was carried by 264 to 224, and on 30 April he introduced his Roman Catholic Relief Bill. Though the second reading was carried by 245 to 203, Abbot's amendment excluding Roman catholics from sitting in parliament was carried by 251 to 247, and the bill was consequently withdrawn.
From 1814 Grattan began to relax his attendance in parliament, and occupied much of his spare time in taking up the study of French literature, and in translating some of Miss Edgeworth's stories into French. Like Grenville he differed from the whigs on the question which arose on Napoleon's escape from Elba, and on 25 May 1815 supported the ministry in an eloquent speech in favour of the immediate prosecution of the war. In 1816 and 1817 he again brought forward the Roman catholic question, and was again defeated. Though returned for Dublin without opposition at the general election in 1818 he was attacked by a mob on leaving the hustings, and narrowly escaped losing an eye from a blow which he received in the face during the struggle. On 3 May 1819 he presented several petitions in favour of the Roman catholic claims, and once more moved for a committee to inquire into the laws affecting the Roman catholics, but was defeated by 243 to 241. Two days afterwards he spoke for the last time in the House of Commons.
In the autumn of this year Grattan was taken ill. Though still far from well, on 13 May 1820 he received a Roman catholic deputation in Dublin, and told them: ‘I shall go to England for your question, and, should the attempt prove less fortunate to my health, I shall be more than repaid by the reflection that I make my last effort for the liberty of my country’. Travelling from Liverpool by canal he arrived in London on 31 May, and, getting gradually worse, died in Baker Street, Portman Square, on 4 June, in the seventy-fourth year of his age. At the request of the leading whigs, who signed a memorial to the family drawn up by Rogers the poet, Grattan was buried in the north transept of Westminster Abbey, close to the graves of Chatham and Fox, on the 16th, a simple flat stone marking the spot. On moving for the issue of a new writ for the city of Dublin Sir James Mackintosh paid an eloquent tribute to Grattan's memory
In his maiden speech in the English House of Commons Grattan concisely summed up the result of his own labours in the Irish parliament:
‘Of that assembly I have a parental recollection. I sate by her cradle, I followed her hearse. In fourteen years she acquired for Ireland what you did not acquire for England in a century - freedom of trade, independency of the legislative, independency of the judges, restoration of the final judicature, repeal of a perpetual mutiny bill, habeas corpus act, nullum tempus act - a great work! You will exceed it, and I shall rejoice. I call my countrymen to witness if in that business I compromised the claims of my country, or temporised with the power of England; but there was one thing which baffled the effort of the patriot and defeated the wisdom of the senate: it was the folly of the theologian’.
After the union Grattan devoted his energies chiefly to the question of Roman catholic emancipation. Short in figure and unprepossessing in appearance, with a thin, sharp voice and an extraordinary delivery, Grattan possessed none of the natural gifts of an orator. Yet few speakers have equalled him in fervidness or originality. Like Chatham he could fire an educated audience with an intense enthusiasm, and like Burke his speeches abound with profound maxims of political wisdom. His style was remarkable for its terseness and epigrammatic force. Though without wit and humour, his speeches are full of felicitous expressions and passages of poetic beauty. ‘He was almost unrivalled,’ Mr. Lecky says, ‘in crushing invective, in delineations of character, and in brief, keen arguments. In carrying on a train of sustained reason he was not so happy. Flood is said to have been his superior; and none of his speeches in this respect are comparable to that of Fox on the Westminster scrutiny’. Grattan's great integrity of character, both in public and in private life, as well as the remarkable consistency of his political conduct, added much to his influence as an orator. His popularity had many vicissitudes, but Grattan never swerved aside from the course of action upon which he had once determined. Though a zealous whig, Grattan was no revolutionist, and though opposed to the union he always insisted upon the importance of preserving the connection between the two countries. As a statesman Grattan's views were broad and judicious, ‘showing himself most conspicuously above the mean and narrow spirit that would confine a statesman's exertions to the questions which interest one portion of the empire, or with which his own fame in former times may have been more particularly entwined’.
In the autumn of 1782 Grattan married Henrietta Fitzgerald. She was descended on her father's side from the Desmonds, and on her mother's from the family of Stevenson of the county of Down. There were two sons and two daughters of the marriage, viz. James, who was born in 1783, and served in the 9th light dragoons in the Walcheren expedition and in the Peninsula. He represented the county of Wicklow in parliament from February 1821 to June 1841, and was sworn a member of the Irish privy council after his defeat at the general election in the latter year. He married on 7 August 1847 Lady Laura Maria Tollemache, youngest sister of Lionel, seventh earl of Dysart, and died without issue at Tinnehinch on 21 October 1854. Henry, who was born in 1789, and was member for the city of Dublin from June 1826 to July 1830, and for Meath from August 1831 to July 1852, and died on 16 July 1859. By his wife, Mary O'Kelly, daughter of Philip Whitfield Harvey of Grove House, Portobello, Dublin, whom he married on 5 October 1826, he had a numerous family, but left no male issue. Mary Anne, who married, first John Blachford of Altadore, county Wicklow, and secondly, on 9 Sept. 1834, Thomas, eighth earl of Carnwath, and died 22 Sept. 1853. Harriet, who married on 6 April 1836 the Rev. Richard William Wake, rector of Courteenhall, Northamptonshire, and died, aged seventy-nine, on 2 January 1865.
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