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Family, Home, and Social Sciences

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Matthew Mason

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Emily Jones (Manchester University-UK)

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Kendall Brown

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Chris Hodson

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Aaron Skabelund


Ireland, representation, popular sovereignty, Irish Patriot Party, legislative instructions, Henry Grattan


This paper revisits a long-neglected controversy over the use of legislative instructions during the Irish Free Trade crisis and explores its impact on the debate over Parliamentary reform in the first years of Grattan’s Parliament. I argue that the episode exposed significant tension between the Parliamentary and popular wings of the Patriot movement—one that most accounts of this era fail to note—while also leading to a major rethinking of traditional notions of representation. Importantly, Irish constituents went beyond defending their simple right to author instructions (as their American and English counterparts had done before), instead advancing them as a novel instrument through which to measure and express the national will—and thus to direct policy in a more “democratic” direction. As such, this controversy not only contributes to our understanding of the emergence of public opinion as a political force, but also suggests that the Patriots’ rhetorical embrace of popular sovereignty was taken rather more seriously than intended, as well as provides an important additional context for the divisive Dungannon Conventions that would follow. The paper builds on the work of Padraig Higgins in restoring political agency to non-elite actors during the Revolutionary War era, while furthering it by putting the issues advanced by those actors in dialogue with “high political” developments.


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