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Mr George Ensor

George Ensor, political writer, was born in Dublin, although his father, George Ensor, was English. Ensor never belonged to any political grouping. He was considered able, but reviewers thought him erratic and too apt to attribute all political problems to virtual representation. Most of his life was spent at Ardress, county Armagh, where he died on 3 December 1843.

Ensor was born in Dublin where is father George Ensor Sr., originally from England, was a prominent architect and developer. In 1783, his mother Sara Ensor (née Clarke) inherited Ardress House,[1] a modest farmhouse in County Armagh, that his father transformed with, amongst other alterations, a facade with false windows to increase the property's apparent size.[2]

Ensor was educated at Ensor Dr Murray's school, Dublin, followed by Trinity College Dublin. He graduated in 1790 and was called to the Irish Bar in 1792.

He married Esther Weld (sister of famous Irish explorer, author and painter Isaac Weld) on 7 January 1804. They had two sons and six daughters. His second daughter, Caroline, married the historian J. P. Prendergast.[3]

Ensor was a political pamphleteer, and a prolific correspondent to the press, noted for the sarcasm he employed against the government in Ireland and in Britain. His first tract, Principles of morality (which argued that morality was independent of religion) was published in 1801. By the time of his death in 1843 he had produced over twenty disquisitions propagating "advanced" views on English laws and tribunals; Catholic emancipation; the triumph of reaction in post-Napoleonic Europe; political economy including the sources, and relief, of poverty; Ireland’s fate within the United Kingdom ; parliamentary reform; national education; and the corn laws.[3]

"Refutation of Mr Malthus's Essay on Population"[edit]

His broadest, most ambitious attempt, was to discredit the political economy of Thomas Malthus.

For a more equal distribution of property[edit]

"Property in the few", wrote Ensor, "confirms an oligarchy—property in the many is the stay of liberty, and the means of its honest and profitable increase".[19] In a posthumous work, Of Property and of its Equal Distribution as Promoting Virtue, Population, Abundance (1844), presented as a "detailed and extensive investigation" of "property its origin, distribution and progress", Ensor took this argument against Malthus a step further.[20]

For emancipation and reform—break with O'Connell[edit]

Ensor was among the first Armagh members of the Catholic Association, a notable position for a Protestant in a county renowned as a stronghold of the Orange Order and the Brunswick Clubs[24]—associations, as Ensor described them, of "illiberals" whose "loyalty" to the Crown rests on the impunity to exclude, "abuse and insult" their Catholic fellow countrymen.[25]

In the end O'Connell stood for the Clare seat alone.[3] He described Ensor as "a man of pure principle and excellent notions", although, "if a Christian at all, certainly not a Catholic", and a radical rather than [as most of O'Connell's Protestant and English friends] a Whig.[32]

Once 1829 Act received the royal assent, O'Connell sought rationalise its disenfranchisement of so many of the tenants who, in defiance of their landlords, had voted for him: the new ten-pound franchise might actually "give more power to Catholics by concentrating it in more reliable and less democratically dangerous hands".[33] Ensor, meanwhile, described their abandonment as a "crime ... against the whole Irish people [for which] wretches are found to applaud, corrupted or cajoled by insidious agents of our ancient enemy".[34]

For an Irish parliament and universal suffrage[edit]

Ensor did join O'Connell in calling for repeal of the Act of Union. As the proprietor from 1803 of the Ardress estate he had served on the Armagh county grand jury (the local government board) and in 1806 held the honorary office of county High Sheriff.[35] But in 1828, he refused to accept appointment as a Justice of the Peace.[36

Acknowledged as having "attacked Christianity" in his treatise On National Education, in 1811 Ensor had elicited a public response: A Letter to George Ensor, Esq: To which are Added, Reasons for Being a Christian[44] from the leading Protestant divine, the Rev. Edward Ryan,[45] and in "An Ensorian Essay on Something" both a parody and a rebuke in the pages of the Tory monthly, The Scourge.[46] Undeterred, albeit under a pseudonym (Christian Emmanuel) in Janus or Sion; or, Past and to Come, published in ten editions between 1816 and 1826, [47] and, in 1835, under his own name, in a larger work, A Review of the Miracles, Prophecies, & Mysteries of the Old and New Testaments and of the Morality and Consolation of the Christian Religion,[48] Ensor pressed forward with a polemic his critics considered both crass and blasphemous.[46]

There followed Letters showing the inutility, and exhibiting the absurdity, of what is rather fantastically termed "the new Reformation" (1828), Ensor's broadside against the evangelical revival which had spurred Protestant "home missions" to Irish peasantry. It had also required "the Bible without note or comment to be a schoolbook"[52] which upended the government's conciliatory plans, broadly supported by Doyle,[53] for a non-denominational system of primary education.[54]

That the Protestant clergy in Ireland should have obstructed "educating socially and religiously all the people in a common school", for Ensor was further evidence that a religious establishment is "inherently pernicious in all its relations".[55]

Ensor died on 3 December 1843 at the family home, Ardress House, which is now property of the National Trust.[56]

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