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By Paul Adelman;Robert Pearce

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Additional info for Access To History. Great Britain and the Irish Question 1798-1921

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The passage of the Act Key question Why did the antiunionists fail? Laity The main body of Church members who do not belong to the clergy. Key term During the months that followed Pitt’s initial failure, events appeared to move in favour of the government. Since, as we have seen, the anti-unionists seemed to have nothing positive to offer, leading members of the Roman Catholic clergy and laity came out in support of union, encouraged by the belief that Catholic emancipation would follow. Fears of French invasion resurfaced in 1799–1800, and this once again produced fear and alarm and helped to shake the anti-unionist resolve of some members of the Ascendancy.

He was not over-worried by the electoral restrictions, since, though he had mobilised them, he believed that the 40-shilling freeholders were still too much under the control of the landlords. Much more important were the opportunities opened up by the Emancipation Act for Catholic advancement in politics, the professions and government service – and he believed that this Daniel O’Connell, ‘The Liberator’ | 37 was bound to lead to the eventual destruction of the Protestant Ascendancy in Ireland.

The latter wrote to Peel that O’Connell’s organisation was ‘so complete and so formidable that no man can contemplate without alarm what is to follow in this wretched country’. ‘This business’, wrote one English MP of the Clare election, ‘must bring the Catholic question to a crisis and conclusion’. So it turned out. The Duke of Wellington, as a soldier and ex-Irish Secretary, took the threat of violence seriously, and concluded that on purely practical grounds Emancipation must be conceded, even if this meant bullying the king, browbeating the House of Lords and facing the prospect of a Tory revolt in the House of Commons.

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