Act of Union
Act of Union
By the Act of Union in 1800, the British and Irish parliaments created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, whose continued existence had become the central issue in Irish politics by the end of the nineteenth century, when Irish politics was sharply divided into unionist and nationalist camps. In return for consenting to the abolition of its venerable legislature, Ireland was empowered to send one hundred representatives to the House of Commons and twenty-eight representative peers to the House of Lords at Westminster. Significantly, because the Act of Union did not provide for the abolition of the executive, headed by a lord lieutenant and a chief secretary, and allowed for the gradual amalgamation of the financial structures of the two kingdoms over a quarter-century, the degree of integration achieved was far from complete. This fact was lost sight of in the nineteenth century, no less completely than the fact that the Act of Union was welcomed by many in Ireland. British support for a union had grown during the late eighteenth century in response to mounting problems in Ireland, while the concession to Irish Catholics of the parliamentary franchise in 1793 persuaded many Irish Protestants of the desirability of a closer connection with their British coreligionists. Given this context, it was therefore not surprising that the out-break of rebellion in Ireland in 1798 should be the spur that prompted Prime Minister William Pitt, who had long believed that a union was the optimal solution to Anglo-Irish relations, to authorize Lord Cornwallis, the lord lieutenant of Ireland, and his chief secretary, Lord Castlereagh, to secure Irish approval for the measure in 1799. But their preparations were insufficient to overcome the opposition of a complex of commercial metropolitan, Whig, Patriot, and ascendancy interests, and the scheme could not proceed at this point. Determined to prevail, Cornwallis and Castlereagh redoubled their efforts. Through the distribution of an exceptional amount of patronage, the authorization of funds to compensate borough owners, public lobbying, and the suggestion to Catholics that Emancipation would follow the implementation of a union, they were able to present the measure to the Irish Parliament in 1800 with greater confidence of success. The coalition of opposition interests put up a robust rearguard resistance, but the deployment of secret-service funds transmitted illegally from Great Britain was indicative of official determination to ensure that the measure reached the statute book. The inability of the opposition to sustain strong public resistance, or to overcome their own internal suspicions and animosities was also important, with the result that the administration prevailed by a comfortable margin in every division that mattered. The British Parliament passed the same measure without serious dissent, and it took effect on 1 January 1801.
SEE ALSO Eighteenth-Century Politics: 1795 to 1800—Repression, Rebellion, and Union; Government from 1690 to 1800; Orange Order: Origins, 1784 to 1800; Politics: 1690 to 1800—A Protestant Kingdom; Repeal Movement; Unionism from 1885 to 1922; Primary Documents: Irish Act of Union (1 August 1800)
Bolton, Geoffrey C. The Passing of the Irish Act of Union. 1966. Geoghegan, Patrick M. The Irish Act of Union: A Study in High Politics. 1999.
Kelly, James. "The Origins of the Act of Union: An Examination of Unionist Opinion in Britain and Ireland, 1650–1800." Irish Historical Studies 25, no. 99 (May 1987): 236–263.
Kelly, James. "Popular Politics in Ireland and the Act of Union." Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 6, ser. 10 (2000): 259–287.
Union, Act of (Scotland)
The unitary state of Great Britain was established on 12 May 1707 with Anne as queen, and the succession guaranteed in the house of Hanover. The Scottish Parliament was abolished, and Scottish representation in the British parliament consisted of 45 MPs and 16 representative peers (the numbers based on the respective sizes of the two economies). Free trade between North Britain (Scotland) and South Britain (England) was established, and England's colonies were open to the Scots on an equal footing. The Scots retained their own legal system (though the House of Lords soon established its position as the highest court of appeal from the Scottish courts), as well as their own Privy Council (this, however, was abolished in 1708). The established churches were to remain the same: Anglican in England and presbyterian in Scotland.
The Union did not settle the problem of mistrust between the two nations, and though England secured immediately the succession and thus her northern frontier (one of her main objectives), Scotland's chief expectation of economic benefit was several decades in coming.
Union, Act of (Wales)
Ralph Alan Griffiths
Union, Act of (Ireland)
E. A. Smith