Freed from the dangers that threatened her rule in Ireland and in India, and mistress of the seas, England was free to attack France; and in such an attack she was aided at this moment by the temper of the European powers, and the ceaseless aggressions of France. Russia formed a close alliance with Austria; and it was with renewed hope that Pitt lavished subsidies on the two allies. A union of the Russian and Austrian armies drove the French back again across the Alps and the Rhine; but the stubborn energy of General Massena enabled his soldiers to hold their ground in Switzerland; and the attempt of a united force of Russians and English to wrest Holland from its French masters was successfully repulsed. In the East, however, England was more successful. Foiled in his dreams of Indian conquests, Buonaparte conceived the design of the conquest of Syria, and of the creation of an army among its warlike mountaineers, with which he might march upon Constantinople or India at his will. But Acre, the key of Syria, was stubbornly held by the Turks, the French battering train was captured at sea by an English captain, Sir Sidney Smith, whose seamen aided in the defence of the place, and the besiegers were forced to fall back upon Egypt. The French general despairing of success left his army and returned to France. His arrival in Paris was soon followed by the overthrow of the Directors. Three consuls took their place; but under the name of First Consul Buonaparte became in effect sole ruler of the country.
His energy at once changed the whole face of European affairs. The offers of peace which he made to England and Austria were intended to do little more than to shake the coalition, and gain breathing time for the organization of a new force which was gathering in secrecy at Dijon, while Moreau with the army of the Rhine pushed again along the Danube. The First Consul crossed the Saint Bernard in 1800, and a victory at Marengo forced the Austrians to surrender Lombardy; while a truce arrested the march of Moreau, who had captured Munich and was pushing on to Vienna. On the resumption of the war in the autumn the Austrians were driven back on Vienna; and Moreau crushed their army on the Iser in the victory of Hohenlinden. In February, 1801, the Continental War was brought suddenly to an end by the Peace of Luneville.
It was but a few months before the close of the war that Pitt brought about the Union of Ireland with England. The history of Ireland, during the fifty years that followed its conquest by William the Third, is one which no Englishman can recall without shame. After the surrender of Limerick every Catholic? Irishman, and there were five Irish Catholics to every Irish Protestant, was treated as a stranger and a foreigner in his own country. The House of Lords, the House, of Commons, the magistracy, all corporate offices in towns, all ranks in the army, the bench, the bar, the whole administration of government or justice, were closed against Catholics. The very right of voting for their representatives in Parliament was denied them. Few Catholic landowners had been left by the sweeping confiscations which had followed the successive revolts of the island, and oppressive laws forced even these few with scant exceptions to profess Protestantism. Necessity, indeed, had brought about a practical toleration of their religion and their worship; but in all social and political matters the native Catholics, in other words the immense majority of the people of Ireland, were simply hewers of wood and drawers of water to their Protestant masters, who looked on themselves as mere settlers, who boasted of their Scotch or English extraction, and who regarded the name of " Irishman "as an insult.
But small as was this Protestant body, one half of it fared little better, as far as power was concerned, than the Catholics; for the Presbyterians, who formed the bulk of the Ulster settlers, were shut out by law from all civil, military, and municipal offices. The administration and justice of the country were thus kept rigidly in the hands of members of the Established Church, a body which comprised about a twelfth of the population of the island; while its government was practically monopolized by a few great Protestant landowners. The rotten boroughs, which had originally been created to make the Irish Parliament dependent on the Crown, had fallen under the influence of the adjacent landlords, who were thus masters of the House of Commons, while they formed in person the House of Peers. During the first half of the eighteenth century two thirds of the House of Commons, in fact, was returned by a small group of nobles, who were recognized as "parliamentary undertakers," and who undertook to "manage " Parliament on their own terms. Irish politics were for these men a means of public plunder; they were glutted with pensions, preferments, and bribes in hard cash in return for their services; they were the advisers of every Lord-Lieutenant, and the practical governors of the country.
The only check to the tyranny of this narrow and corrupt oligarchy was in the connexion of Ireland with England and the subordination of its Parliament to the English Privy Council. The Irish Parliament had no power of originating legislative or financial measures, and could only say "yes" or "no" to Acts submitted to it by the Privy Council in England. The English Parliament too claimed the right of binding Ireland as well as England by its enactments, and one of its statutes transferred the appellate jurisdiction of the Irish Peerage to the English House of Lords. But as if to compensate for the benefits of its protection, England did her best to annihilate Irish commerce and to ruin Irish agriculture. Statutes passed by the jealousy of English landowners forbade the export of Irish cattle or sheep to English ports. The export of wool was forbidden, lest it might interfere with the profits of English wool-growers. Poverty was thus added to the curse of misgovernment; and poverty deepened with the rapid growth of the native population, till famine turned the country into a hell.