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Browsing: Papers of John Adams, Volume 8


This note contained in document ADMS-06-08-02-0233
4. JA refers to the volunteer and nonimportation movements in Ireland, which were founded on deeply felt grievances and resurgent Irish nationalism. There was considerable sympathy for America in Ireland, thus making JA's comments on the Irish use of American models more justified than his comments in this and previous letters regarding the English county association movement (see JA to Samuel Adams, 23 Feb., above). The expectations of JA and others that the movements in Ireland, and to a lesser degree in England, could undermine the North ministry, however, were doomed to disappointment. The perspective of Paris and Versailles led to a misapprehension as to the origins and aims of the movements and, in the case of Ireland, the ability and willingness of Britain to deal effectively with Irish grievances.
The volunteer movement was reminiscent of the American minuteman companies and resulted from the lack of any sizable body of British troops to defend Ireland. The need for extraordinary measures became clear in 1778, when John Paul Jones captured the HMS Drake at Cerrickfergus, and was made even more urgent in 1779 when a Franco-Spanish invasion seemed likely. In mid-1778, therefore, the recruitment of volunteer companies began and ultimately over 40,000 troops were raised. Catholics and Protestants alike supported the effort, but the government at London and Dublin regarded the volunteers as an extralegal force that could as well be used to seek redress of grievances as for defense.
The nonimportation movement too had American roots. Always heavily circumscribed by British restrictions, Irish trade was almost destroyed when the outbreak of war in America cost Ireland the only profitable market for its linens. The chronically depressed Irish economy thus grew worse, with thousands facing starvation. To dampen growing Irish unrest, Lord North introduced a series of trade bills on 2 April 1778 that would have ended many of the barriers to Irish trade. Opposition from British manufacturers, however, forced North to retreat, and in the end only minor changes were made. In the absence of the relief that the trade bills would have provided, the Irish economy continued to deteriorate until, at a meeting at Dublin in late April 1779, a nonimportation agreement was adopted. The movement soon became widespread and was effective in limiting Anglo-Irish trade.
The volunteer and nonimportation movements altered Ireland's relationship with Great Britain. Although the volunteer companies showed no disloyalty to the crown, they became, as the British authorities had feared, a political force in support of nonimportation and free trade. Together the two movements forced the North ministry in late 1779 and early 1780 to introduce measures that finally permitted Ireland to enjoy a relatively free trade within and without the empire. With these measures and a relaxation of restrictions on Catholics and dissenters, the North ministry successfully defused the situation and, although many in Ireland remained sympathetic to the American cause, any hope that Irish unrest would materially effect Britain's ability to carry on the war ended (W. E. H. Lecky, A History of England in the Eighteenth Century, 8 vols., N.Y., 1878–1890, 4:520–542; Cambridge Modern Hist., 6:495–498; for the Irish trade bills, see Parliamentary Hist., vols. 19 and 20).
Cite web page as: Founding Families: Digital Editions of the Papers of the Winthrops and the Adamses, ed.C. James Taylor. Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2014.
http://www.masshist.org/apde2/