The Society of United Irishmen and Reform

The Society of United Irishmen was founded in Belfast in October 1791 and a similar society in Dublin in November. This 'constitutional conspiracy' was intended to be the voice of reform not of revolution, the latter course being determined by government reaction and repression and the apparent termination of constitutional hope for reform. French republicanism stirred the minds of Presbyterians and catholics, denied rank and privilege by virtue of their religion. Thomas Paine's, The Rights of Man, became the most widely distributed pamphlet in Ireland.

"To substitute the common name of Irishman in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter, to make all Irishmen Citizens - all Citizens Irishmen," -- these were goals worthy of the enlightened liberal middle class of the 1790's, but they were equally anathema to the Anglican Ascendancy.

The quest for reform progressed with the Catholic Relief Act in 1793. This was negated by the contemporaneous Militia Act and much of the country was disturbed. The French offered help to any nation who wanted it sending shock waves through the heart of conservative Europe. War broke out between Britain and France and support for republicanism was viewed with suspicion. The French styled Volunteers were suppressed and in the following year, 1794, the United Irishmen were suppressed and driven underground. The new Lord Lieutenant, the liberal Earl Fitzwilliam, was recalled shortly after his arrival in 1795 when he raised the issue of further concessions for catholics. He was replaced by Lord Camden. The hopes of constitutional reformers faded and the United movement became more militant, forging links with the Defenders - separatism and republicanism their new official dogmas. Loyalism developed it's own brand of militancy with the foundation of the Orange Order in September 1795.

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