Clare, John Fitzgibbon, 1st earl of

▪ Irish politician
born 1749, near Dublin
died Jan. 28, 1802, Dublin

      lord chancellor of Ireland who was a powerful supporter of a repressive policy toward Irish Catholics and, from 1793, a strong advocate of union with Great Britain. He was probably the first to suggest to George III (ruled 1760–1820) that the King would violate his coronation oath if he consented to the admission of Catholics to Parliament.

      He entered the Irish House of Commons in 1778 and became attorney general in 1783. When appointed lord chancellor in 1789, he was raised to the peerage as Baron Fitzgibbon and was made earl of Clare in 1795. Personally as well as politically opposed to the Irish patriot statesman Henry Grattan, he organized the defeat of Grattan's proposals (1787–89) for reform of the Irish land tithe system. Although he recommended the passage of the Catholic Relief Act of 1793, forced on the Irish executive by the English Cabinet, he denounced the policy it embodied. Responsible for the Convention Act (1793), which severely restricted radical agitation, he also defended the strict measures taken by the government in face of the rebellion of 1798, but he was neither cruel nor immoderate and was inclined to mercy when dealing with individuals.

      In October 1798 Clare, who since 1793 had been convinced of the necessity for a legislative union between Great Britain and Ireland and was equally determined that the union must be unaccompanied by Catholic emancipation, crossed to England and pressed his views on the prime minister, William Pitt the Younger. On Feb. 10, 1800, Clare in the House of Lords moved the resolution approving the union in a long and powerful speech, in which he reviewed the history of Ireland since 1688, attributing the evils of recent years to the independent Constitution of 1782 and speaking of Grattan in language of deep personal hatred. He was not aware of the assurance which Lord Cornwallis, the viceroy of Ireland, had been authorized to convey to the Catholics that the union was to pave the way for emancipation; and, when he heard of it after the passing of the act, he bitterly complained that he had been deceived. After the union Clare became more violent than ever in his opposition to any policy of concession in Ireland.

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Universalium. 2010.

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