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What were the implications of the campaign for Catholic Emancipation for the poorer sections of Irish society?

What were the implications of the campaign for Catholic Emancipation for the poorer sections of Irish society?

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An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by oliver carrington. Originally submitted for V140 at Queen University Belfast, with lecturer Professor Liam Kennedy in the category of Historical Studies
An essay for the 2011 Undergraduate Awards (Ireland) Competition by oliver carrington. Originally submitted for V140 at Queen University Belfast, with lecturer Professor Liam Kennedy in the category of Historical Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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10/27/2013

 
 
What were the implications of the campaign for Catholic Emancipation for thepoorer sections of Irish society?
The term Catholic Emancipation, often used to describe the 1829 Act, can be quite misleading.This is because in order for the affluent Catholic to be able to sit in parliament, the sore end of thedeal was that the forty-shilling freeholders had to forfeit their considerable franchise incompromise to this. Therefore it could be seen as only a middle class Catholic Emancipation andeven this was still restricted. It would appear that despite the poorer Catholics significant role inthis campaign, their political rights were sacrificed and therefore the direct and short termimplications for this poorer section of Irish society would be a back step on the road todemocracy. However this is not the case and this essay will engage with how this campaign hadin actuality long term political advantages for the poorer sections of Irish society. After outliningthe Catholic Relief Act
s short term disadvantages to the poorer Catholics, the question will betackled in two angles. First, the true value of this pre-emancipation voting power of the Catholicpeasantry will be analysed, to show the practical limitations associated with this and also the factthat this already excluded many even poorer sections. Secondarily, the longer-term politicaloutcomes of both the mass movement and the Act which resulted from it will be considered andshown to outweigh the forty-shilling freeholders sacrifice, as a progressive step in the direction of a more true definition of Catholic and even Irish emancipation.The emancipation campaign was a long struggle which faced strong opposition, to the extent thatS.J. Connolly states that it
brought Ireland to the brink of renewed rebellion and civil war
.
1
Withthe passing of the Act of Union 1800, Catholic opinion was encouraged that further Catholicrelief would follow to extend the religious and economic restrictions recently lifted such as the1793 Catholic Relief Bill which enfranchised the forty-shilling freeholders. Universal suffrageaside at this point in time, the remaining disabilities included the crucial right to sit in parliament
due to the oath of abjuration which was incompatible with a Catholic’s conscience. Alt
hough the
campaign had much earlier origins, it was only with Daniel O’Connell’s Catholic Association,
formed in 1823, that the issue became most prominent. Connolly marks that the creation of theassociate membership of a penny a month targeted at the poorer sections of the Irish Catholicswas the real turning point in the campaign, as this allowed ordinary Catholics
to identify moreclosely with the association and its struggle
.
2
Subsequently the campaign became a powerfulmass movement including the participation of the forty-shilling freeholders. This participationwas shown to be invaluable in the 1826 election where many defied their landlords
in theirvoting preference. O
Connell relied on this defiance when he stood for election in the 1828County Clare by-election, winning by 2,057 votes to Fitzgerald
s 982. Connolly places this as the
most dramatic demonstration of the control the Catholic Association exercised over its massfollowing
.
3
 
The threat was made that only Catholic Emancipation ‘could
prevent Ireland fromerupting into revolt
.
4
In 1829 the Catholic Relief Act was eventually passed, which opened thepolitical system for Catholic politics. However this legislation had only a direct positiveimplication for the affluent Catholics able to become an MP, which Alvin Jackson reveals
affected only a small educated and propertied elite
.
5
Furthermore accompanying the Act toreduce opposition was a rise in the franchise to £10, eliminating the forty-shilling freeholderwhich had been so central to the success of the campaign. Despite Catholic emancipation being avictory for liberal Catholicism and a symbolic defeat for the Protestant Ascendancy, the
1
S.J. Connolly,
Mass politics and sectarian conflict, 1823-30
, in W.E. Vaughan (ed.)
 NHI Vol V: Ireland under theUnion, 1
(Oxford:1989), p106
2
S.J. Connolly,
Mass politics
p84
3
S.J. Connolly,
Mass politics
p103
4
S.J. Connolly,
Mass politics
p94
5
A. Jackson,
 Ireland 1798-1998 : politics and war 
(Oxford, 1999) p35
 
 
 
advantageous implications for poorer sections of society are less obvious.With long-term and indirect benefits aside, it is reasonable to view Catholic emancipation asfailing to sufficiently answer the Catholic question. Not only did the campaign fail to redress thesocial and economic grievances of the peasantry, but was also directly responsible for thedisenfranchisement of the forty-shilling freeholders. Affluent Catholics who became MPs, suchas O
Connell, now pursued many interests which were alien to the vast majority of the poor, suchas the repeal of the Corn Law, anti-slavery and Jewish emancipation. The disenfranchisement, notonly forfeited a political role of the forty-shilling freeholder, but also made the individual morevulnerable to eviction, since he no longer possessed political worth to the landlord. This wasparticularly unfortunate during the Great Famine to come. Connolly also states that the electoratewas reduced
to a fraction of its former size
where
the number of voters fell from about 216,000to about 37,000
6
. This clearly provides tremendous evidence that the campaign was of greatdisadvantage to the Catholic cause.
 
Additionally, the Act held a further negative implication, aclause that forbade the holding of Catholic religious services anywhere except in churches andprivate houses
.
7
Another consequence of the campaign especially among the poorer sections of society of both religions was a renewed emphasis in sectarian violence. Connolly argues that the
intensification of sectarian animosities owed much to the revival of the campaign for Catholicemancipation
’.
8
Nevertheless it is worth acknowledging that members of a certain group, such as
the Catholic identity, would want their group’s interests to be represented in parliament. This
essay will now engage with the analysis that this representation was worth the expense of thedisenfranchisement of thousands of voters.The true value of the pre-emancipation voting rights among the poorer sections of society couldnot be seen as a significant source of power. First it is important to point out that the 1793 Actintroducing the forty-shilling freeholder was limited to the counties and not the boroughs, andalthough many economic and social restrictions were lifted, in reality it was hard for people fromlower positions to get far in the state apparatus. In addition the voters obviously could not vote fora Catholic MP. The forty-shilling freeholders
franchise did offer some limited economicadvantage to the tenant in how the
landlords allowed some indulgence, in matters of subdivisionof land or in rent concessions
’.
9
 
However, as Fergus O’Ferrall states the political reality was thatthe ‘
forty-shilling freeholders were created to bolster a landlord
s political interest
as tenantswere expected to vote in the landlord
s preference.
10
O
Ferrall further adds that this voting right
was largely abstract
because since 1800 many counties had not even been polled.
11
Evidencethat the forty-shilling freeholder lacked any real worth can be seen in how O
Connell waspreviously
happy to exchange the forty-shilling franchise for Emancipation
,
12
in relation toBurdett
s bill. Connolly states that O
Connell argued that the loss of the voting rights
requiredIrish Catholics to give up nothing of value
’.
13
 
O’Connell believed in fact that their position was
an impediment rather than an aid to political progress
, since their existence served
only tostrengthen the power of the landlords who controlled their votes
’.
14
 
O’Connell was however 
proved wrong by the 1826 election and he therefore tried, to no avail, to prevent the bill of disenfranchisement as he felt indebted to this poorest section of the electorate. However hisoriginal line of argument can still be persuasive. The 1826 election was indeed a turning point,
6
Connolly,
Mass politics
p96
7
Connolly,
Mass politics
p97
8
Connolly,
Mass politics
p83
9
F. O'Ferrall,
Catholic emancipation : Daniel O'Connell and the birth of Irish democracy
(Dublin,1985) p118
10
O'Ferrall,
Catholic emancipation,
p118
11
O'Ferrall,
Catholic emancipation,
p118
12
O'Ferrall,
Catholic emancipation,
p118
13
Connolly,
Mass politics
, p96
 
14
Connolly,
Mass politics
, p96
 
 
however there was no safeguard that the forty-shilling freeholders would not be exploited in thefuture and there was not much evidence that this large section of the electorate had previouslymuch influence in emancipation or any other reform. It is also integral to remember that in thepoorer sections of Irish society, the forty-shilling freeholder was but the elite of this group and themajority of peasants never had the ability to vote and therefore for the poorest of society thecampaign for Catholic Emancipation had no direct implications to their political rights.Since the forty-shilling freeholders were but only a part of the poorer sections of society, it isimportant to consider the long-term implications to the entire peasantry, such as the progressionof a Catholic political apparatus and subsequent reforms and campaigns. These long-term
implications owe their origins in the Act which permitted Catholics to become MPs. O’Ferrallhighlights how the political features of the campaign for Catholic Emancipation ‘survived intact’such as ‘
the drilled, disciplined electorate, the pledge-bound party, the nation-widecommunications network, the alliances between town and countryside
.
15
This political apparatusand the alliance between Catholics and Liberalism, which was strengthened by the campaign,facilitated a number of reforms which had implications for the poorer sections of Irish society.G.O
Tuathaigh outlines extensive reforms in justice, education and the Irish Poor Law Act in1838, which was arguably partly due to pressure from Catholic MPs. Jackson argues that theemancipation campaign was the
most successful popular mobilisation of Catholic opinion inIrish history
and facilitated further movements.
16
This is evident in the campaign against thetithe, which Oliver MacDonagh notes was
partly due to the agitator vacuum left after theconclusion of the emancipation struggle
’, and of course the movement behind the repeal of the
union, which no doubt had deep implications on the Irish society as a whole.
17
This legacy indeedwas influential in the future programmes of Young Ireland, the Fenians and the Irish RepublicanBrotherhood, which aimed to target to a poorer audience.It is perhaps the non-legal consequences of Catholic Emancipation, which made most differenceto the lives of the poorer sections of Irish society. Indeed Jackson claims it can be argued that
themeans by which the victory was won were to prove almost as significant as the victory itself 
.
18
 The strongest implication must be the politicisation of the poorer sections of the Catholiccommunity. Increased literacy and communication tied in with the Catholic Association
smethods, created a new style of mass politics in Ireland, which had far reaching implications forthe peasantry and indeed the future of Ireland. This was facilitated by methods of the Association,such as the associate member category, which Connolly calls a
masterstroke of political strategy
 giving the masses a direct part to play in a previously middleclass campaign.
19
This politicalconsciousness was strengthened through parish censuses and self-organised petitions and publicmeetings, which continued past the conclusion of the Catholic Relief Act. These local actions,created
a sense of unity and purpose
’, which stimulated the communities to query other 
grievances such as the privileges of the Church of Ireland, toleration of Orange excesses andeducational interference.
20 21
The election results of 1826 are one of the best examples of the masspoliticisation, where many disobeyed the landed Protestant ascendancy. Connolly comments that
this meant the Landlord’s ‘
era of their automatic and unquestioned dominance was gone forever
 which surely was a great implication for the peasantry.
22
The implications for the entire Catholic
15
O'Ferrall,
Catholic emancipation,
p118
16
Jackson,
 Ireland,
p36
17
O. MacDonagh,
O
Connell
s ideology
, in L. Brockliss and D. Eastwood (eds), A Union of multiple identities(Manchester, 1997), p223
18
Jackson,
 Ireland,
P36
19
Connolly,
Mass politics
p85
20
Connolly,
Mass politics
p85
21
Connolly,
Mass politics
p93
 
22
Connolly,
Mass politics
p99

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