Lucas, Charles (1713–71), politician, physician, and writer, was born 16 September 1713, the younger son of Benjamin Lucas (d. c.1727) of the townland of Ballingaddy, Kilmanahan parish, Corcomroe, Co. Clare, and his wife, Mary (née Blood), also of Co. Clare.
Family background Lucas's grandfather Lieutenant-colonel Benjamin Lucas, a soldier in the Cromwellian army, was a member of the council of war that, on behalf of the parliament of the commonwealth of England, concluded the agreement at Limerick in April 1652 whereby Mortogh O'Brien, who commanded the Irish brigade in Co. Clare, surrendered. Benjamin was a beneficiary of the Cromwellian land settlement in the county to the extent of 939 acres scattered across five different baronies; he was resident on one of the larger of these properties in the townland of Ballycortea, in the barony of Inchiquin, when, in the early 1660s, he was appointed one of the commissioners responsible for collecting the poll tax under the terms of the poll money ordinance of 1661. He served also for a time as receiver of rents for Lord Inchiquin, and had expanded his role to that of agent by the early 1670s.
Less is known of the family's fortunes in the following decades, but the general impression that Charles Lucas's father was improvident, perhaps even a ‘wastral’ (Ó Dálaigh, 100) has proved hard to shake. Claims to this effect entered the public realm for the first time during the heated Dublin by-election of 1749, when the allegation that Benjamin Lucas was ‘a footman’ to Sir Donat O'Brien (1642–1717) of Leamanah and Dromoland (Taylor, 10–11) was made with the specific object of damaging Charles Lucas's electoral prospects. This allegation can be shown to be wide of the mark, as ‘Benjamin Lucas of Ballingady gent’ was identified with other eminences from Corcomroe barony on a list of prospective voters for Sir Donat before the 1713 general election (Ainsworth, 646). This is not, however, to deny that the younger Benjamin Lucas failed to build on the achievements of his father. It is suggestive, for instance, that Ballingaddy, Charles Lucas's birthplace, was not among the numerous properties Benjamin Lucas senior acquired in the 1650s. It is further noteworthy that, as well as his own large family by Mary Blood, Benjamin Lucas fathered two children by a female servant, Ellen Hynes, and that he died heavily in debt in 1727. If, as has been claimed, it was necessary to sell the ancestral home to meet these debts, then the bequests totalling £937 that he left to his large family were palpably less that they had the right to anticipate and what they might in other circumstances have received.
Education and early life Charles Lucas's proportion of this sum was a modest £80, but since this was accompanied with the instruction that he and his brother Nathaniel should be set to ‘some proper occupations’ (will of Benjamin Lucas, 1727, NAI, prerogative wills, 1726–8, ff 308–9), it was apparent that he would have to secure gainful employment. In anticipation of this Charles may have been instructed locally by Aodh Mac Cruitín (qv), a learned antiquary and author of Brief discourse in vindication of the antiquity of Ireland (Dublin, 1717), who, it has been claimed, equipped him with knowledge of Latin. At any event, Lucas's education seems to have come to a close around the time of his father's death, when he was apprenticed to an apothecary in Dublin. This was the least respectable of the three categories of medical professional operating at the time, but the rapid expansion in the commercial medical marketplace that was currently under way meant that it was an exciting time to embark on a career in medicine, and Lucas quickly acquired the necessary skills. He was admitted to the freedom of the Guild of Barber–Surgeons in April 1735, and to the freedom of the city the following July. Meanwhile, he married Anne Blundell in 1734, and opened an apothecary's shop in Charles Street, Dublin.
The apothecary trade that Lucas entered was notorious for fraud and malpractice. Persuaded that inspections for adulterated and poisonous ingredients would help solve these problems, Lucas published a pamphlet on the subject and made a submission to the house of lords on the desirability of legislating to redress the current situation. He was wont to argue later that the legislation enacted in 1736 empowering the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland to inspect apothecaries' shops was in response to his intervention, whereas, in reality, it mirrored the regulatory regime being introduced in Great Britain. Nonetheless, the experience, and the impact of the criticism directed his way from established vested interests constituted a salutary lesson of the downside of controversy – it may have been this episode that led to the closure of his Charles Street business and caused him to spend some time in London in the late 1730s. Lucas was not cowed, however. He underlined his literary enthusiasm and his commitment to open and honest enquiry by preparing an account of the Burren in 1736, and by publishing Pharmacomastix, or, The office, use and abuse of apothecaries explained in 1741, and he had the satisfaction of knowing that a majority of his colleagues in the barber–surgeon's guild appreciated his earnestness when he was chosen in 1741 as one of their representatives to sit on the common council of Dublin corporation.
Member of the Dublin common council Lucas's election to Dublin corporation signalled the start of that phase in his life for which he is best known – that is, as champion of the rights of the common council, comprising ninety-six representatives of the city's guilds, forty-eight sheriff's peers, and two sheriffs, against the oligarchical pretensions of the lord mayor and twenty-four aldermen who constituted the upper chamber of this bicameral assembly. Although the corporation was legally grounded on various royal charters of medieval origin, the pre-eminence of the aldermen had been affirmed by the so-called ‘New Rules’, introduced in 1672, whereby the upper house was formally given power to appoint the main officers of the corporation and an effective veto over the nominees of the guilds. The sheriffs and commons deemed these practices inconsistent with the chartered rights of the commons and citizens, and this grievance was highlighted on a number of occasions during the early eighteenth century. No substantive demand for reform emerged but, encouraged by the growing assertiveness of London corporation and by mounting financial problems, Sir Simon Bradstreet had taken up the issue in a by-election held in 1737. Bradstreet was unsuccessful at the polls, but the genie of reform had been released, and the preparation in 1739 and 1740 of reports by a committee established to examine various aspects of the corporation's operations, including the sale by the lord mayor and sheriffs of city employments, indicated that at the time Lucas became a member the corporation was already actively grappling with controversial issues.
Lucas was temperamentally disposed to side with those urging reform, and:
it was to be [his] achievement during the 1740s to transform a purely municipal struggle for the restoration of ‘ancient rights’ into a campaign of national (and in the eyes of some supporters, international) significance, aiming at nothing less than the regeneration of the ancient ‘free’ constitution of the whole (Hill, 83).
His membership began inauspiciously with an unedifying controversy caused by his assertion that a prominent alderman had a financial stake in the purchase of Islandbridge mills as part of a scheme to improve the city's water supply. As a member of the corporation's pipe water committee, Lucas was well placed to sustain his contention that this purchase was not in the city's best interest, and he did his utmost in 1742 to frustrate the aldermen's expectation that the common council would simply acquiesce. He was unsuccessful but, undeterred by this setback, he determined to broaden the basis of his challenge to the abuse of power by the aldermen. His opportunity came when the aldermen resisted an initiative from the lower house to improve and streamline the corporation's committee system: the common council required that minutes be kept and regular reports and statements of account be forwarded; they also suggested that all committees need not have aldermanic representation. These demands were refused, as was a commons' request in June 1742 that the receiver general of the city revenue should present a detailed statement of the arrears of rent due.
Conflict with the aldermen In tandem with James Digges La Touche (qv), who was a representative of the merchants' guild, Lucas succeeded in having a committee established in August 1742 to inspect the city ‘charters, acts of assembly and other such papers as relate to the government of this city, and the Blue Coat Hospital, and to report their opinions thereon’ (Gilbert and Gilbert (eds), ix, 504). The inclusion of the Blue Coat Hospital within the scope of the committee's enquiry was almost certainly at Lucas's behest, as it was his belief that the governance of the school by a board on which there was aldermanic representation, in defiance of the school's charter which vested governing power in the corporation at large, reflected in microcosm what had happened to the corporation. The implication that the city commons were legally entitled to participate in the selection of aldermen and municipal officials and to a greater say in municipal government struck right at the heart of aldermanic privilege, and at the procedures provided for by the New Rules. It bothered Lucas that the chairmanship of the committee of enquiry was given to La Touche on the grounds that he had been a common councilman for longer, but he could, and did, take considerable satisfaction from the fact that the committee's conclusions were consistent with his own. Moreover, the publication by him in 1742–4 of a sequence of tracts, notably A remonstrance against certain infringements on the rights and liberties of the commons and citizens of Dublin (1743) and Divelina libera: an apology for the civil rights and liberties of the commons and citizens of Dublin (1744), in which he addressed these and allied matters, ensured that he was established in the public mind as the leading advocate of a more open and less elitist form of municipal government.
The aldermen, inevitably, sustained a campaign of stout resistance against the claims of the commons; they held (on reasonable grounds) that Lucas was wrong in contending that the procedures provided for by the New Rules – notably the controversial right of aldermanic self-election – did not take precedence over chartered rights or ancient practice. The commons contrived, by declining to approve the city accounts in 1743 and thereby disrupting corporation business, to bring additional pressure to bear, and to win public support by encouraging the citizenry to attend on quarter assembly days. When in 1744 the aldermen signalled their refusal to accede to the commons' demands in respect of the election of new aldermen, Lucas spearheaded an attempt to test the matter in the courts. The refusal of Judge Thomas Marlay even to hear their case closed this door, and Lucas's career in Dublin politics seems to have been brought to an abrupt close shortly afterwards when the aldermen struck out his nomination from the triennial return submitted by the barber–surgeons.
Lucas sought unsuccessfully to secure his re-election to the corporation in 1746 and 1747, but his nomination was rejected by the board of aldermen. On the second occasion, Lucas prepared a written statement, for presentation to the lord lieutenant, the earl of Harrington (qv), of the commons' case against the aldermen, entitled The complaints of Dublin (1747). In this, he expressed, with greater vehemence than previously, his antipathy to the ‘tyrannical’ interests of the municipality and the judiciary, which resisted his efforts to restore the ancient liberties of the corporation. Harrington ignored this appeal, but Lucas's intervention gave notice of his determination to re-enter the political fray. This was underlined by his intervention, also in 1747, in support of Thomas Sheridan (qv), the embattled manager of the Smock Alley Theatre, when a number of ‘gentlemen’, some at least of whom were ‘papists’, rioted in protest at productions that, they perceived, were chosen to affirm the existing protestant establishment. Lucas's contributions to this controversy were published anonymously, but his allegations that those responsible were ‘rebels’, ‘papists’, and ‘enemies of our establishment’ (Murphy, 132) has caused some to accuse Lucas of anti-catholic bigotry. In fact it is more plausible to conclude that, though he shared the strong prejudices of the majority of Irish and English protestants towards catholics in general, his readiness to distinguish between ‘catholics’, who observed the religious tenets of catholicism, and ‘papists’, who accepted the pope as their temporal as well as spiritual leader, indicates that his position was more complex. This is not to suggest that he favoured religious toleration or the repeal of the many existing disabilities against catholics; he merely shared the view of many Irish protestants that, while catholics need not be persecuted and could be permitted freedom of religion, they could not be conceded rights inconsistent with the security of the protestant constitution.
Parliamentary campaign, 1749 In keeping with his commitment to uphold the liberties provided in the protestant constitution, Lucas offered himself for election to parliament for Dublin city when one of the seats fell vacant in August 1748. Since James Digges La Touche let be known that he too aspired to win the seat, it appeared that, in order to gain it, Lucas would have to prevail over his old reformist ally and rival as well as over Sir Samuel Cooke, an alderman who had the backing of the city establishment. However, the death in May 1749 of the other MP, Nathaniel Pearson, meant that as both seats in the constituency were vacant, Lucas and La Touche could run on a reformist ticket together. It was an uneasy alliance, but this was of less significance than the manner in which Lucas fought the campaign. More fully aware than his rivals of the power of the press to win over the sizeable electorate of Dublin city, he prepared a series of twenty election addresses and six letters to the citizens of Dublin, and in 1749 established a newspaper, The Censor, to bring his views to the public. In so doing he not only changed the way in which elections in open populous constituencies were fought, he also expanded the public sphere by giving unprecedented publicity to his argument in support of the restoration of the constitutional and political rights that were the entitlement of all protestant freemen, freeholders, and citizens. These rights had been eroded illegally over time by vested interests, he contended, but it was the duty of freemen to protect as well as to enjoy the bounties of ‘liberty’ that could be traced to Magna Carta and to the protestant reformation, and which depended for their survival on the maintenance of balance within the constitution between the rights and duties of the monarch, aristocracy, and people. This balance had, of course, been disturbed in Dublin, but it had also been disturbed, Lucas averred, in Ireland by centuries of English policy.
Lucas's expansion of his case from the specific issue of the Dublin municipality to the wider canvas of Ireland constituted a major departure in his thinking. He not only echoed William Molyneux (qv) in denying the entitlement of the English parliament to make law for Ireland and in denying the conquest of Ireland, he affirmed more trenchantly than normal the fundamental contention of eighteenth-century Irish protestant patriotism that Irish protestants were entitled to precisely the same constitutional rights and privileges as their British equivalents. Because it was not so different from what Molyneux, Swift (qv), and others had argued before, Lucas's articulation of these arguments, while not welcomed by an establishment that believed itself to adhere strictly to the principles of the constitution and which was reflexively suspicious of criticism from within, was not in itself a problem. But he crossed the line of what was acceptable when he expanded his critique to embrace such politically sensitive issues as Poynings' law, the Declaratory Act, and the accepted reading of history that Irish protestants shared by claiming that there was ‘no general rebellion in Ireland since the first British invasion, that was not raised or fomented by the oppression, instigation, evil influence or connivance of the English’ (Lucas, Political constitutions, 123). His offence was compounded, moreover, by the sheer volume of words that poured from his pen to fill the multiplicity of addresses that he prepared and the columns of The Censor, through which he established a unique line of communication with the public. Moreover, Lucas's prodigious energy and literary prolificacy meant that nobody was safe from excoriation. It seemed, indeed, to those who took seriously the responsibility of upholding the New Rules in Dublin, maintaining political stability in Ireland, and keeping the Anglo–Irish nexus on an even keel that Lucas's campaign, which relied heavily on personal vilification and malicious misrepresentation, was so dangerously destabilising that it simply could not be allowed to proceed unchecked.
Lucas's critics made their opinions clear to Lord Harrington after his return to Ireland in advance of the 1749–50 parliamentary session. Harrington was not predisposed to decisiveness, but influenced by Lucas's boldness in attending a public viceregal levee to present a copy of his Great Charter of the city of Dublin and other writings with the request that they be transmitted to the king, he sought and secured permission to invite parliament to condemn Lucas's ‘rebellious doctrines’ (Burns, ii, 108). MPs did not hesitate, and on 16 October 1749 the house of commons approved a series of resolutions declaring Lucas to be an enemy of his country and ordering his arrest, detention, and prosecution for publishing sedition and violating the privileges of the house of commons. Fearing the consequences, Lucas fled to the Isle of Man.
Exile Lucas's initial response to exile was to seek to drum up support for his cause from abroad. Having taken up residence in London, he published in 1750 a long pamphlet, The liberties and customs of Dublin asserted, to which the Irish administration organised a response by Sir Richard Cox (qv). He subsequently prepared a collected edition of the public letters, addresses, and other matter produced as part of the 1748–9 election campaign, which he rather grandiosely entitled The political constitutions of Great Britain and Ireland asserted and vindicated (2 vols, 1751), but the lack of support for his position prompted him to forsake politics for a time and revert to his original avocation, medicine. He was admitted to the University of Paris, but he took an MD at the University of Rheims in 1751 and a further MD at Leiden in the following year.
Now qualified as a physician, Lucas returned to London where he devoted his energies to both medicine and politics. The primary fruits of the first was An essay of waters (1756) in which he made known his researches into European spas, but the publication in the same year of An appeal to the commons and citizens of London, by which he sought (unsuccessfully) to enlist the support of London corporation and warned of the potential dangers to liberties in Britain if the attenuation of liberties in Ireland and America was allowed to continue, indicated that his interest in political events in Ireland remained strong. It was thus appropriate, following the granting of a pardon by George III in 1760, shortly after his accession to the throne, that Lucas should return to Dublin and gain what he had been denied in 1749, a parliamentary seat for the city.
Member of parliament His success was a triumph for the ‘independent’ interest that Lucas had done so much to shape, and true to the commitment he entered into at the time, Lucas stood forward as a spokesman for the advocates of constitutional reform in the kingdom as a whole and not just in Dublin. To this end he participated with Henry Brooke (qv) in the foundation in 1763 of the Freeman's Journal, a popular news-sheet that provided an outlet for constitutional commentary and reports of political events from a reformist perspective. He was prominent also in the small but vigorous ranks of whigs and patriots that spearheaded calls for political and constitutional reform during the following decade, but his moderate oratorical capacities meant that he was overshadowed in the commons' chamber by younger, more able performers like Henry Flood (qv) and Edmond Sexten Pery (qv). One of his priorities during the 1760s was the campaign to limit the duration of parliament to seven years, and he attempted unsuccessfully in the 1761–2 and 1763–4 sessions to usher bills to this effect onto the statute book. He was involved again in 1767–8 with Henry Flood when an octennial measure was finally approved. He also promoted legislation in 1762 regulating the preparation and sale of drugs, and contrived on a number of occasions to advance his constituents' wish to secure statutory recognition of the customary ‘quarterage’ charge levied by guilds on catholics to enable them to trade in the city. This campaign was vigorously, and successfully, opposed by the Catholic Committee, but Lucas's endorsement of quarterage was entirely consistent with his lifelong conviction that, since the British constitution afforded a fuller prospect of liberty than any other, its protestantism could not be compromised. Moreover, having been re-elected to the common council of the corporation in 1762, once more as a representative for the barber–surgeons' guild, and returned for a second time as MP for the city in 1768, he was committed to uphold the entitlements of the political interests that he represented.
This did not mean that he no longer perceived that the liberties of Irish protestants were free from threat from the very establishment of which they were a part. Like whigs across the Atlantic world, he came to perceive that the British government during the 1760s aspired to attenuate the liberties of the subject and restore the despotism that had last flourished under the Stuarts. Guided by this conviction he joined with other whigs in resisting the efforts of Lord Townshend (qv), who became lord lieutenant of Ireland in 1767, to augment the army and to curtail the power of the undertakers. Famously described by Townshend as ‘the Wilkes of Ireland’ (HMC, Rutland, ii, 303), Lucas's hostility to Townshend intensified in the wake of his prorogation in December 1769 of the Irish parliament following the commons' rejection of a money bill that had arisen at the Irish privy council. This was the occasion for Lucas's last major publication, The rights and privileges of parliament asserted upon constitutional principles against the modern anti-constitutional claims of chief governors (1770), in which he once more discoursed on the inappropriateness of Poynings' law.
Death and political legacy Although Lucas's mental faculties, on this evidence, remained unimpaired, his health was far from robust, and there were occasions during the 1760s when he had to be carried into the house of commons. This may have influenced his decision, following the death in 1765 of his second wife, Penelope Catherwood, whom he had married at St James's, Westminster, in 1760, to remarry. He married Elizabeth Hely in 1768, but though he had children by her, the marriage was not destined to last. Lucas died, aged fifty-eight, on 4 November 1771.
The large attendance of dignitaries and citizens at Lucas's funeral indicated that by the time of his death the image of the outsider firebrand that he had acquired during the 1740s was no longer appropriate. He had, by his activities, provided that strand of radical whiggery which was particularly strong in Dublin but was also visible in other urban centres with a sense of confidence that Edward Newenham (qv) and others, who came in his wake and who consciously looked to him for inspiration, drew on. Respectable society was much more censorious, not least because Lucas, and James Napper Tandy (qv), who were the leading radicals in Dublin politics in the eighteenth century, did not conform to their image of respectability. But as Lord Charlemont's (qv) readiness to applaud ‘the truly patriotic Dr Lucas ... whose conduct, influence and writings had raised a spirit in the people’ (HMC, Charlemont, i, 24) indicates, Charles Lucas was a man of many parts, who impressed as many as he repelled. The fact that the citizens of Dublin deemed it appropriate to remember him with a fine statue by Edward Smyth (qv) is certainly indicative of the fact that those whose interests he thought it his responsibility to represent recognised and appreciated his contribution to the cause of liberty at national as well as municipal level.