Henry Grattan

Associated Locations:

  •  Fishamble Street, Dublin, Ireland

Associated Dates:

  • 3 July 1746 – Born

Henry Grattan is one of the eminent spirits who appeared to President Wilford Woodruff in the St. George Temple on August 21, 1877. This interesting story is detailed in the Eminent Spirits Appear to Wilford Woodruff wiki.

His strength of character and intelligence made him a powerful force in a day when governments and men were ruled by bribes. Although Grattan is classified as one of the world’s greatest orators, it was not an inborn gift. He struggled greatly as his voice was not distinctive, his figure was awkward, and his delivery seemed to repulse his great audience. Grattan overcame all the shortcomings and was compared to the great Greek orator Demosthenes.

Sydney Smith wrote soon after the death of Grattan: “No government ever dismayed him. The world could not bribe him. He thought only of Ireland; lived for no other object. dedicated to her his beautiful fancy, his elegant wit, his manly courage, and all the splendour of his astonishing eloquence.”

 “I found Ireland on her knees…Ireland is now a nation!”

– Henry Grattan

Life Sketch from The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff

Copyright © Taken from the book: The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Special thanks to Vicki Jo Anderson. Please do not copy.

Irish Statesman 1746-1829

Early Life

Born 3 July 1746 in Dublin, the first child and only so born to James Grattan and Henrietta Marlay, Henry Grattan displayed as a child exceptional gifts of intellect and a strong character. An incident that demonstrates his strength of character occurred while Grattan was a boy. Like most of the children of Ireland, Grattan knew many of the Irish superstitions, and he felt the paralyzing fear, so he went into a churchyard near his father’s house, after the clock struck midnight where he remained until “every qualm of terror had subsided.” This he did for several nights.

His strength of character and intelligence made him a powerful force in a day when governments and men were ruled by bribes. Although Grattan is classified as one of the world’s greatest orators, it was not an inborn gift. He struggled greatly as his voice was not distinctive, his figure was awkward, and his delivery seemed to repulse his great audience. Grattan overcame all the shortcomings and was compared to the great Greek orator Demosthenes.

As a boy Henry attended a Mr. Ball’s Academy. One day, Mr. Ball asked him to translate two lines fro the Latin classic ‘’Ovid’’. He promptly gave an interpretation that his father had told him. As he finished Mr. Ball told him to go on his knees for making such a stupid blunder. Thad night sensitive young Henry reported to his father what had happened and he was soon sent to another school.

From his early youth Henry loved practicing speeches. This habit sometimes got him into difficult situations. “On one occasion his landlady in England requested his friends to remove that mad young gentleman who was always talking to himself, or addressing an imaginary person named Mr. Speaker.”

Grattan and his father, who had been Dublin’s recorder for many years, got along well until Henry began to have an opinion about politics. Grattan’s father sat for a number of years in the Irish Parliament, an office that was often held by the good favor of a rich patron.

The other representative for their district was a Dr. Lucas, who had raised himself from near poverty and had gained his eat by truly representing the people. The election of these two men had been the first in thirty-three years since there had been a change. Dr. Lucas believed as Jonathan Swift had written that “All government without the consent of the governed is the very definition of slavery.” Lucas worked for a number of years before he was able to obtain the votes necessary to change the frequency of the election. Lucas’s bill was finally voted on by the Irish Parliament and approved by the English Privy Council.

Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland

Young Grattan greatly admired Dr. Lucas, much to his father’s disgust, although, both father and son did agree that Ireland had a right to manage its own affairs, separate from England’s domination. Their other political views were so different that their relationship became strained and eventually the father partially disinherited his son.

Grattan, upon finishing his early education, went on to distinguish himself at Trinity College in Dublin. There he began a life long study of classical literature of the great orators of the past. After completing his education at Trinity, Grattan was accepted at Middle Temple in London to further his studies for the bar. In 1772 he was accepted to the bar, but he never seriously practiced law. While in England he received word that a sister to whom he was very close had died after a short illness. Grattan writes of this sister as one, “whom I love extremely.” Her loss came as such a shock to him it made him terrible lonesome for him. A month later another sister married Gervase Bush, a lawyer who was later to play an important role in the fight for independence with Grattan. Soon after these events Grattan retreated to the countryside for a time. There he sought solace and time to work out his thoughts and lay his future plans.

Seat in Irish Parliament

While England was engaged in war with the thirteen colonies, many troops were withdrawn from Ireland. In an effort to help maintain order in the country local groups were organised into “volunteers.” Grattan and others became noted officers in this militia. It was the recognition of this work that brought him into public service. In 1775, Lord Charlemont gave Grattan a seat in the Irish Parliament. (Seats in Parliament at that time were often bought or “owned” by large landowners.)

Grattan immediately joined with the national party whose main object was to set the Irish Parliament free from the Privy Council of England, thus giving Ireland jurisdiction over its own matters. The restrictive measures enforced by the Privy Council had been opposed by great men such as Molyneux, Swift, and Flood. But it was Grattan who was able to change this repressive legislation.

In 1780 Grattan gave his famous speech entitled “Liberty as an Inalienable Right.” It has been said that no speech in Ireland was equal to it, nor probably was their a superior speech ever delivered in the English House of Commons. Other speeches may have matched it in argument and information, but in its fresh burst of energy and splendor of style it was a classic. In concluding his speech, Grattan pleaded with his fellow representatives of the people: “Do not tolerate that power which blasted you for a century, [England] that power which shattered your loom, banished your manufacturers,… stopped the growth of your people; do not, I say, be bribed … and permit that power which has thus withered the land to remain in your country.”

Irish parliament. This was the parliament that Henry Grattan also campaigned for and which was to later be known as ‘Grattan’s parliament’
Hereafter, when these things shall be history, your age of thraldom and poverty, your sudden resurrection, commercial redress, and miraculous armament, shall the historian stop at liberty, and observe–that here the principal men among us fell into mimic trances of gratitude–they were awed by a weak ministry, and bribed by an empty treasury–and when liberty was within their grasp, and the temple opened her folding door, and the arms of the people clanged, and the seal of the nation urged and encouraged them on, that they fell down, and were prostituted at the threshold?… I never will be satisfied so long as the meanest cottager in Ireland has a link of the British chain clanking to his rags; he may be naked, he shall not be in iron; and I do see the time is at hand the spirit is gone forth, the declaration is planted; and though the public speaker should die, yet the immortal fire shall outlast the organ which conveyed it and the breath of liberty, like the word of the holy man will not die with the prophet, but survive him.

So persuasive were Grattan’s orations that he was able to bring about change that had no been possible before. Henry Grattan opened the door for Ireland, through which Daniel O’Connell later led the people.

Grattan had been a student of the American Revolution and knew the value of indpendence and a constitution. So on 16 April, 1782, amidst unprecedented popular support, Grattan led the Irish Parliament to a declaration of Independence. In a rare move the English Privy Council voted its approval. However, their independence was not the complete and full independece that the colonies had gained. The Irish Parliament had always intended to remain loyal to the reigning monarch, and the declaration of Independence did not remove them from subjection to the King. Because of the entangling alliance, Grattan’s attempts to put into action constitutional measures ran into problems. England felt that Ireland’s constitution was weak and offered little security. England was also concerned over a possible rebellion as had recently occurred in France and the constitution of 1782 provided no safeguard against revolt.

England’s worst fears were realized when the Protestants in the north and Catholics in the south formed an organization of “United Irishmen.” The purpose of this organization was to promote revolutionary ideas such as were had in France. An invitation was extended to the revolutionaries in France to invade Ireland. However, weather prohibited the French landing. The disastrous “Rebellion of 1798” was sternly and cruelly repressed, the action was soon taken to do away with the Irish Parliament and constitution.

A Plan was presented that would send elected officials straight to the English Parliament. Up to this time there had been a growing conciliation between the Protestants and the Catholics. But England began courting the Catholic support for union with promises of full Catholic emancipation. The Protestants of the north, who were called Orange men, were vehemently opposed to this action. (The position of Protestants and the Catholics later reversed under Daniel O’Connel, when the Catholics then supported separation from England.)

Grattan’s family was still in the north at this time and reports reached Grattan that the “Orange boys had got up” where his children were with their French tutor. The “Orange Boys” were against Grattan because even though he was a faithful Protestant, he always represented the Catholic bills for emancipation. It was not long before Grattan found that these reports of threat against his family were true and that a whole machinery of spies and informers was in operation about his home. His sons later recalled that there were rumors of attempts to find witnesses to testify against Grattan, but none could be found. Lord Dufferin, a relative of Mrs. Grattan suggested that since she had gone to England in the past for her health that if might be wise for her and the children to leave under this pretext in order to get Grattan away, for he was watched and in danger. But Grattan refused to budge. Their home was invaded by a regiment that called themselves the Ancient Britons, who were known for their brutality. Fortunately, Mrs. Grattan had received word that they were coming and departed for Wales where Grattan met them. The personal troubles were but a mere reflection of the country’s turmoil that led to the devastating rebellion of 1798.

The disgust with which Grattan viewed the loss of Ireland’s independence and the rebellion so affected his mental state that his body became diseased. Losing all his strength he was bedridden for some time. Grattan was not them a member of the Irish Parliament as he had fallen out of grace with the ruling classes because of his parliamentary reform proposals and his dogged support of Catholic emancipation. Dismissing him from the highest council, they removed his portrait from the Hall in Trinity College and the Merchant Guild of Dublin stuck his name off their rolls.

Irish Parliament

When England threatened to bring the Irish Parliament into the English Parliament, the people of Ireland turned to Grattan for help. Grattan protested pointing to his feeble physical condition for he could not leave his bed. His wife reminded him that he was born to defend Ireland and ordered a sedan chair to carry him to Parliament. Wrapping himself in a blanket and placing two pistols under his belt (his life was still in grave danger), he kissed his wife and left his home not knowing whether he would return. On 15 January 1800 Grattan returned for the last part of the session that the Irish Parliament would hold as a group under a constitution. It would be many years before they would meet so freely again.

He attended the session as a legal representative in a position his friends had obtained for him just a short time before the session began. When Grattan mad ehis appearance “there was a moment’s pause, an electric thrill passed through the House, and a long wild cheer burst from the galleries. Enfeebled by illness, Grattan’s strength gave way when he rose to speak, he was given leave to address the House sitting.” He then gave a magnificent appeal the lasted over two hours. But despite all these efforts, he was unable to keep the vote from going in favor of union with the English Parliament.

Though Grattan strongly opposed the union with England, one it was done he informed his followers that since union was now law, he intended to follow it. Grattan remained active in public affairs and in 1805 was elected to the English Parliament from Ireland. He modestly took his seat on one of the back benches, until Fox brought him forward to a seat near his own, exclaiming, “This is no place for the Irish Demosthenes!” Grattan’s first speech was in defense of Catholic emancipation. It was “one of the most brilliant and eloquent ever pronounce within the walls of Parliament.”

Grattan’s stand on the Catholic issue was a complicated one. Because he was a loyalist, supporting the law, he supported king’s right of veto over the selection of Catholic bishops. Because of this stand, Catholics sought a new defender. But Grattan never failed in continuing his defense in his speeches and in his votes for the Catholic right to emancipation.


Grattan died on 4 June 1820. He left behind a paper to be read in the House of Commons and in it he advised England to grant the Catholics their rights; even in death he was a defender of the rights of all men. No honor was denied him in his death. All members of Parliament attended his services and he was buried in Westminster Abbey alongside Fox, the English statesman he most admired.

Copyright © Taken from the book: The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Special thanks to Vicki Jo Anderson. Please do not copy. [1]


  1. Anderson, Vicki Jo. (1994). The Other Eminent Men of Wilford Woodruff. Cottonwood, AZ: Zichron Historical Research Institute.

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