GRATTAN, Henry II (?1787-1859), of 84 St. Stephen's Green, Dublin and Moyrath, co. Meath

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Constituency

Dates

1826 - 1830
11 Aug. 1831 - 1852

Family and Education

b. ?1787, 2nd s. of Henry Grattan I* (d. 1820) and Henrietta, da. of Nicholas Fitzgerald of Greensborough, co. Kilkenny; bro. of James Grattan*. educ. privately; Trinity, Dublin 17 May 1804, aged 16½; M. Temple 1807; King’s Inns 1807, called [I] 1811. m. 5 Oct. 1826, Mary O’Kelly, da. of Philip Whitfield Harvey, newspaper proprietor, of Grove House, Portobello, co. Dublin, 4s. d.v.p. 7da. suc. bro. James to Tinnehinch, co. Wicklow 1854. d. 16 July 1859.

Offices Held

Biography

The younger son and namesake of the great Irish Patriot, who represented Dublin at Westminster from 1806, Henry Grattan junior was destined to live in his father’s shadow and he never escaped it. Having graduated from Trinity in 1808, he was in attendance at parliamentary debates and privately taking his father’s part, by the following year. ‘Law books be damned’, he once wrote to his brother James, who had entered the army, but although he neglected his legal studies, he did qualify and apparently practice at the bar, at least for a while. With a lively mind and a fiery temperament, he exhibited a youthful indignation at Ireland’s dependent status, but, as he recounted to James, 9 Aug. 1810, his father prevented him making his political debut at a Dublin meeting for repeal of the Union:

I thought it would be a measure useful to him among his constituents; that it might make me and him popular, however he differed from me ... I had some idea of embarking in the question and rising or falling with it; but there is so little spirit that the measure of repeal I fear would not be supported at all. My father of course will not advance.

He added, with characteristic hyperbole, that ‘an Irishman of ambition dies in Ireland, he droops in England ... We have become a province drained of every particle of spirit ... By God the Irish mind is debased’; and later opined that, between foolish Catholics and tyrannical Protestants, the Irish of his own type were without a country of their own, being ‘half colonists, half indigent adventurers, men on garrison duty’. His kindly father tended to tolerate such outbursts, confiding to James, 7 Oct. 1811, that Henry’s politics ‘are more violent than mine and he argues with too much acerbity, of that he will mend’.1 However, he courted celebrity, as well as his father’s disapproval, with at least one controversial publication, Faction Unmasked or a Letter to the Roman Catholics of Ireland (1815), which was widely attributed to him.2 Some anonymous journalistic pieces in the Dublin Evening Post, vindicating his father against the aspersions of the Catholics, involved him in a threatened prosecution at the hands of Saurin, the high Protestant Irish attorney-general.3

Grattan, who was considered a possible successor at Dublin if his father resigned the seat, stood in for him at the general election of 1820, when he also backed Richard Wogan Talbot* for the county, and, as his factotum, accompanied him on his last journey to England.4 On his father’s death in early June, when he fought a bloodless duel with Lord Clare and took exception to the speed with which the new Dublin writ was issued, Grattan immediately offered as his political heir, particularly on behalf of the Catholics.5 But he was defeated by the corporation and ministerialist candidate Thomas Ellis, an extreme anti-Catholic, in a vicious contest, after which he condemned the intimidation practised on the freemen and promised to uphold the independence of the borough, especially in regard to its freeholders, although he did not pursue his petition.6 He was admitted a freeman of the smiths’ guild in October 1820 and in January 1821 joined in the condemnation of the sheriff’s conduct at the county Dublin meeting the previous month.7 He collected materials for his father’s life, but the poet Tom Moore rejected the proposal of writing his biography, finding them insufficient and reflecting too much the son’s limited memory and taste.8 In its place he edited a collection of his Miscellaneous Works and the four volume Speeches of the Right Honourable Henry Grattan (both 1822), dedicated to the people of Ireland, in which he commented that his father’s life ‘was one continued, gentle, moral lesson’ in defending liberty, to ‘teach us perseverance and firmness, in upholding the freedom and the rights of our country; protecting her against her own inconstancy and guarding ourselves against the fallibility of human nature’.9

In the early 1820s Grattan maintained a high profile in Dublin, where he was criticized for opposing calls for repeal of the Union as untimely at a meeting of the merchants’ guild, 14 Oct. 1822, concurred in the condemnation of the Orange theatre rioters late that year and made himself an expert on the vexed local issue of corporation taxation.10 He also cultivated interests in several other counties, for instance Monaghan, where he was believed to be registering freeholders in 1822, and Cavan, where he spoke at a county meeting in January 1823.11 In January 1824 his less excitable brother James, Member for Wicklow, recorded in his journal:

Henry writes long complaints of the state and neglect of Ireland ... He is quite too hasty, so about tumult and the inquiry, and conduct of [William] Plunket* in filing ex-officio [informations against the theatre rioters] he said he was glad he was roused and he was wrong ... He mismanages his private affairs with an apparent contempt of family ... [which] does not serve his credit; and his imprudence and misjudgement has lost him the city, and to the family, and has put him to great expense. He also writes complaints about the tithe bill ... His opinion is really good for nothing.12

He announced his future candidacy for Dublin by an address, 27 Nov. 1824, and was considered certain to stand on the independent interest during electoral speculation the following summer. Yet he had his detractors, like Henry Westenra, the wavering ministerialist Member for Monaghan, who in January 1825 remarked that ‘as to my voting for Grattan, it is a thing I should deplore. His politics appear to me to be childish, and the character of the man would not bear one out in the voting for him as my friend’.13

By a campaign of registering dubious Catholic freeholders and, according to Richard Sheil*, a blatant attempt to woo corporators’ wives at the Dublin tabinet ball, Grattan, who appealed constantly to his father’s principles, put himself in a strong position as the only liberal candidate at the general election of 1826, when he seconded the pro-Catholic Robert Henry Southwell in the Cavan contest.14 Ellis was now disqualified from standing and, after Sir Robert Shaw* had unexpectedly withdrawn, Grattan was returned for Dublin with the corporation’s anti-Catholic champion George Moore, whom he accused of reviving religious discord.15 In October he married at St. Peter’s, Dublin, the daughter of Philip Whitfield Harvey, who had died, ‘in principle a pure Whig’, 6 Aug. 1826. Since 1802 Harvey had been the proprietor of the Freeman’s Journal, a liberal Dublin daily, and the paper now passed to Grattan as part of his wife’s marriage portion.16 Although it naturally gave its new owner good coverage, Grattan probably had only a limited editorial role: for instance, in January 1827, when Daniel O’Connell* applauded his election victory at a national meeting of Catholics, he printed a statement disclaiming all knowledge of a recent article attacking Trinity College. Nevertheless, he often had to bear the brunt of criticisms of the Journal, and in late 1827 he apparently fought a duel with Thomas Newcomen Edgeworth, who had taken offence at one of its paragraphs.17

Grattan was said to have done well in speaking against the address, 21 Nov. 1826, when he was a minority teller for his own amendment for including mention of Irish grievances and promising their redress, which was defeated by 135-58.18 Thereafter, like his brother (from whom he was distinguished as ‘Henry Grattan’ rather than ‘Mr. Grattan’), he was very active in promoting Catholic claims, for which he presented many petitions, and advancing numerous Irish causes, as well as undertaking a large amount of constituency business. He warned ministers that Ireland would not be satisfied without Catholic relief, 6, 8 Dec. 1826, and, having (as he was frequently to do) differed with his colleague over a hostile Dublin petition, 5 Mar., voted for emancipation, 6 Mar. 1827.19 He spoke for introducing poor laws to Ireland, 9 Mar., to condemn the system of stipendiary magistrates there, 16 Mar., and for reducing excessive church taxes, 3 Apr. He divided for the production of information on the mutiny at Barrackpoor, 22 Mar., the Orange procession and Lisburn magistrates, 29 Mar., and chancery administration, 5 Apr. He voted for Tierney’s amendment to postpone the committee of supply, 30 Mar., and for a select committee on the Irish miscellaneous estimates, 5 Apr. He obtained leave for a bill to afford greater protection to Catholic places of worship, 10 Apr., but did not proceed with it. The following day he complained of discrimination against Catholics in the administration of justice.20 He was in minorities for separating bankruptcy jurisdiction from chancery, 22 May, and against committing Thomas Flanagan to Newgate, 19 June. He was admitted to Brooks’s, sponsored by Lords Fitzwilliam and Duncannon*, 30 May 1827.

He used the presentation of petitions to complain about the Irish Subletting Act, 25 Feb., and discrimination against Catholics in education, 28 Feb. 1828. He voted for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb. He continued to raise matters connected with Dublin, such as the appointment of juries, 5 Mar., and the admission of Catholics to the corporation, 11 Mar. Having seconded Parnell’s motion for production of the treaty of Limerick as inconsistent with the penal laws, 6 Mar., he spoke forcefully for Catholic relief, 12 May. Declaring that ‘I plead not only for their rights but for your security’, he emphasized that there should be equal treatment for all and suggested, in what became one of his favourite themes, that an alienated Ireland might one day go the way of the American colonies; he divided in the majority that day. He remonstrated against government inaction over distress in Ireland, 5 June, pointed out a misapplication of public money there, 12 June, and supported his constituents’ attempts to abolish the coal duties, 20, 27 June. He unsuccessfully moved to include the protection of Catholic chapels under the Irish malicious injuries bill, 16 June; he wrote to O’Connell that ‘I tried all I could but in vain. Government is incorrigible’, adding that ‘I hope the Catholics will not fall into the trap of securities and veto’.21 He voted against the grant for the Society for the Propagation of the Gospels, 6 June, and for inquiry into the Irish church, 24 June, and was in minorities against considering excise licenses for cider retailers, 26 June, the additional churches bill, 30 June, and Fyler’s amendment in the committee on the silk duties, 14 July 1828. He signed the Protestant declaration in favour of the Catholics that autumn and the requisition for the Dublin meeting of the friends of civil and religious liberty in January 1829.22

Grattan congratulated the Wellington administration on its decision to grant Catholic emancipation, 5 Feb. 1829, and brought up numerous Dublin parish and other favourable petitions that session. He rebutted his colleague’s insistence on the unsympathetic attitude of public opinion in relation to hostile petitions from county Dublin, 3 Mar., Dublin corporation, 13 Mar., and the Protestants of Ireland, 17 Mar., and deplored the invidious distinctions drawn between Protestants and Catholics in parliamentary debates, 12 Mar. He voted for emancipation, 6, 30 Mar., but, as he had made clear he would, 10 Mar., he spoke and divided against the franchise bill, 19 Mar., when he argued that no proof had been advanced as to the delinquency of the 40s. freeholders either among the Catholics, who he said were not dominated by their priests, nor among the Protestants of the North. The following day he was in the minority for Duncannon’s amendment to allow reregistration, but on the 26th he objected to Moore’s attempt to extend the franchise bill to boroughs as a ruse to disfranchise the Catholics altogether. He briefly raised a query about whether O’Connell would be permitted to take his seat, 23 Mar., and voted to allow him to do so unimpeded, 18 May.23 He spoke for the Maynooth grant, 22 May. Sending £50 towards O’Connell’s renewed electoral campaign in county Clare, 26 June 1829, he commented that ‘his return last year was a master stroke of Irish policy and the country is greatly indebted to him for his exertions’.24

No stranger to journalistic confrontations, Grattan fell foul of the law late in 1829, when the Freeman’s Journal, despite its support for emancipation, was one of the papers made an example of by the Irish secretary Lord Francis Leveson Gower, who wished to suppress the publication of inflammatory and libellous press comment. He was obliged to remain in Dublin during the early part of the following year, and was eventually convicted, without punishment, in May 1830. He parted company that year with the Journal, which was said to have declined considerably because of inefficient management during his proprietorship; it picked up thereafter under Patrick Lavelle.25 Grattan apparently left Ireland on the 20th and the first votes that can safely be attributed to him that session were those for abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 24 May, 7 June, information on Canada, 25 May, and both O’Connell’s and Lord John Russell’s motions for parliamentary reform, 28 May. Having promised his constituents that he would join his colleague in strenuously opposing the increased Irish stamp and spirit duties, he did so in the House, 28 May, and at a meeting of Irish Members on this subject, 29 May.26 He divided against reform of the divorce laws, 3 June, the grant for South American missions, 7 June, and the government amendment to increase recognizances under the libel bill, 9 July. He advocated the virtues of Irish landlords being resident on their estates, 4, 7 June, complained about the distressed state of Ireland, 21 June, remarked that the proposed tax increases would only exacerbate the situation, 29 June, and urged greater expenditure on public works to provide relief, 2, 7, 13 July 1830.

Although praised by the Freeman’s Journal for his parliamentary exertions and championing of liberal causes, Grattan was forced on to the defensive at the general election of 1830, when he suffered from a relative lack of mercantile credibility and was challenged by a coalition of Moore and Frederick Shaw*, the recorder.27 He boasted of his conduct in promoting the independence and economic interests of Dublin on the hustings, but trailed throughout the ensuing contest and blamed his defeat on corporation intimidation and other sharp practices; he entered a petition to this effect, but again failed to pursue it.28 He was belatedly thought of as a candidate for county Meath, where he was briefly proposed from the gallery, and by that winter he had announced his future candidacy there.29 Vehemently opposed to the Irish administration’s attempt to suppress the current agitation for repeal of the Union, he chaired the Dublin inhabitants’ meeting in its favour, 25, 26 Jan. 1831.30 Mentioned as a possible candidate for Clare, he in fact contested Meath, with O’Connell’s backing, at the general election that spring, when he declared his principles to be those of 1782, ‘Ireland and Independence’, but was defeated by the pro-reform sitting Members Lord Killeen and Sir Marcus Somerville.31 The latter’s death provided another opportunity for Grattan, who backed the reform candidates in the contemporaneous Dublin by-election, and he was duly elected for Meath in August 1831, with the support of O’Connell and the priests, after a one-day poll; the Irish administration, which had opposed him, considered his speech hinting that misgovernment might provoke popular revolution on the recent French example to be inflammatory and put his success down to Catholic intimidation.32

Like his brother, Grattan, whom Robert Gordon had intended to call on to respond in his place to allegations of fraudulent freeholder creations in Dublin borough, did not vote on the resolutions relative to the Dublin election, 23 Aug. 1831. The first evidence found of parliamentary activity that session was on 29 Aug., when he objected to excessive church taxes and voted for making legal provision for the Irish poor. The following day he spoke of the difficulties of registering freeholders and divided against preserving the voting rights of Irish freemen. In addition to numerous minor interventions, he handled business relating to Dublin (such as the coal meters establishment, 2 Sept.) and Meath (such as the Navan Catholics’ petition for the redistribution of church revenues, 9 Sept.), and constantly raised matters concerning the other eight counties in which he claimed (on 20 Mar. 1832) to own properties. He condemned Orange outrages perpetrated by the Irish yeomanry, 31 Aug., and called for its total disbandment, despite being himself an officer in it, 7, 9 Sept. His clashes with James Gordon, Member for Dundalk, 9 Sept., Sir Richard Vyvyan, Member for Okehampton, 13 Sept., and Frederick Shaw (on the subject of improper electoral influence), 21 Sept., illustrated the acerbity he often resorted to in debate. He voted for transferring Aldborough from schedule B to schedule A, 14 Sept., but for the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage of the Grey ministry’s reintroduced reform bill, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He welcomed the Irish secretary Smith Stanley’s bills to amend the Whiteboy Act, 22 Sept., and to reform Irish grand juries, 29 Sept., but continued to oppose his arms bill, 23 Sept., and to raise complaints against the Irish yeomanry, 3 Oct., police, 4 Oct., magistrates, 5 Oct., and clergy, 6 Oct. He defended Maynooth College and its grant, 26 Sept., and urged greater attention to Irish affairs in general, 27 Sept. He intervened acrimoniously about the Dublin election, 12 Oct. 1831, and the following day, when he stated that he opposed government as far as Ireland was concerned, he was silenced by the Speaker during an attack on Sir Charles Wetherell, the former attorney-general.

Grattan, who signed the requisition for a Meath county meeting on reform in October, spoke in its favour at the Navan dinner held in his and Killeen’s honour, 28 Nov., and at the county Dublin meeting, 3 Dec. 1831.33 He paired for the second reading of the revised reform bill on the 17th and chaired a Dublin meeting to consider the gloomy state of Ireland, 31 Dec. 1831.34 He voted in the minority for Heron’s amendment against enfranchising £50 tenants-at-will, 1 Feb., but otherwise generally divided in the majority for the details, as for the third reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar. 1832. He sided with ministers over Portugal, 9 Feb., and on 27 Feb. was credited with being in favour of recommitting the anatomy bill, which he wished to see extended to Ireland. Frequently raising cases concerning tithes and bringing up Irish petitions for their total abolition that session, he voted to print the hostile Woollen Grange petition, 16 Feb., and condemned Smith Stanley’s interim report on the subject as premature and misconceived, 17 Feb., 8 Mar., when he was in the minority to postpone this debate. He made extensive criticisms of government’s tithes resolutions and voted for amendments to them, 27, 30 Mar., when he unsuccessfully moved for tithes to be levied in greater accordance with the wishes of the Irish people, and on 16 Apr. he repeated his argument that church revenues from them should be used to benefit the poor. He objected to Smith Stanley’s Irish subletting bill, 20 Feb., defended the Irish lord chancellor Plunket’s use of patronage relative to the post of secretary to the master of the rolls, 22 Feb., 6 Mar., when he quarrelled violently with the Donegal Member Edward Conolly over the Kildare Place Society, and thanked the corporation of London for taking a greater interest than its counterpart in Dublin in the affairs of Ireland, 16 Apr., 4 July. He was absent from the division on Ebrington’s motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry reform unimpaired, 10 May; he was presumably in Dublin because on 1 June, when he attacked the corporation for its Protestant exclusiveness, he stated that he had attended the inhabitants’ meeting to petition for withholding supplies until reform had been carried. He criticized the additional seat proposed for Dublin University, 23 May, 13 June, and welcomed widening its franchise by giving the vote to the masters of arts, 9 July. He said the Irish reform bill was not sufficiently extensive, but was in the majority for its second reading, 25 May. He urged the adoption of lower qualifications for freeholders, 13 June, and leaseholders, 18 June, and divided for giving the vote to £5 freeholders, 18 June, and against making electors liable to pay municipal taxes before being allowed to vote, 29 June. He remonstrated against Catholic ceremonies being covered by the Irish party processions bill, which he otherwise supported, 14, 19 June, and reprobated Dublin corporation for maintaining its dominance by means of creating Protestant freemen, 25 June, 2 July. Having warned ministers that it would be impossible to enforce future collections of tithes, 14 June, he spoke and voted against the tithes bill, 13 July, when he was vituperative in his exchanges with Smith Stanley and pessimistic in his assessment of the intentions of the Protestant ascendancy. He divided to make permanent provision for the Irish poor by a tax on absentees and to suspend flogging in the army, 19 June, to open coroner’s inquests to the public, 20 June, and to establish a system of representation for New South Wales, 28 June. He divided with government for the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16 July 1832.

Grattan, who was returned unopposed for Meath with Maurice O’Connell* at the general election of 1832, was later described by James Grant as tall, sallow and gentlemanlike in appearance and to be a reasonably good speaker, although

there is always an abundant infusion of burning liberalism in his speeches. It is impossible for him to give expression to half a dozen sentences without getting into a downright passion ... He is by far the best specimen of a wild Irishman ... in the House.

Grant also commented that Grattan ‘has much of the attachment to his native country which blazed in the breast of his illustrious father, but unhappily he has not a tithe of the talent’.35 His Memoirs of the Life and Times of Henry Grattan, which appeared in five volumes between 1839 and 1846, was passionate but undistinguished in style, displaying more of a righteous filial affection for, than a balanced historical understanding of, his father’s life and principles.36 A Repealer, he was defeated in Meath in 1852 and died in July 1859, when his estates were apparently divided between his two married daughters Henrietta, the wife of Charles Langdale, who inherited the Grattan family residence of Celbridge Abbey, county Kildare, and Pauline, the wife of Thomas Arthur Bellew of Mount Bellew, county Galway, who changed his name to Grattan Bellew.37

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell

Notes

  • 1. NLI, Grattan mss 2111; R.B. McDowell, Grattan, 189-90, 195; A.P.W. Malcomson, John Foster, 356.
  • 2. Grattan mss 27805, James to Henry Grattan, 10 May; Pprs. of Denys Scully ed. B. MacDermot, 531.
  • 3. R.L. Sheil, Sketches of Irish Bar (1854), i. 353-4.
  • 4. Dublin Evening Post, 3, 29 Feb., 30 Mar.; Dublin Jnl. 17 Mar. 1820. See HENRY GRATTAN I.
  • 5. Northants. RO, Agar Ellis diary, 31 May, 6 June; Dublin Evening Post, 8, 10, 13, 22 June; Grattan mss 27805, address [June], O’Grady to Grattan, 5 July 1820.
  • 6. Dublin Evening Post, 27, 29 June, 1, 6, 8 July 1820.
  • 7. Ibid. 16 Nov. 1820, 20 Jan. 1821.
  • 8. McDowell, 221.
  • 9. Grattan Speeches ed. H. Grattan, vol. i, pp. iii-iv, xxxv-xxxvi.
  • 10. Dublin Evening Post, 15 Oct., 30 Nov. 1822, 6 Jan., 15, 20 May 1823, 15 Feb., 4 Mar. 1824; O’Connell Corresp. ii. 982.
  • 11. PRO NI, Rossmore mss T2929/3/20; Strabane Morning Post, 21 Jan. 1823.
  • 12. Grattan mss 5777.
  • 13. Dublin Evening Post, 30 Nov. 1824, 8 Aug. 1825; Rossmore mss 3/104.
  • 14. Sheil, i. 352, 354-5; Newry Commercial Telegraph, 23 June 1826.
  • 15. Dublin Evening Post, 6, 10, 13, 24 June 1826.
  • 16. Freeman’s Jnl. 7 Aug., 6 Oct. 1826; A. Aspinall, Politics and the Press, 116.
  • 17. Freeman’s Jnl