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
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).