Swift wanted to arouse public opinion in Ireland against the imposition of a privately minted copper coinage that Swift believed to be of inferior quality. William Wood was granted letters patent to mint the coin, and Swift saw the licensing of the patent as corrupt. The popular sentiment turned into a nationwide boycott, which forced the patent to be withdrawn. Swift was later honoured for this service to the people of Ireland.
About Drapier’s Letters in brief
Drapier’s Letters is the collective name for a series of seven pamphlets written between 1724 and 1725 by the Dean of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, Jonathan Swift. Swift wanted to arouse public opinion in Ireland against the imposition of a privately minted copper coinage that Swift believed to be of inferior quality. William Wood was granted letters patent to mint the coin, and Swift saw the licensing of the patent as corrupt. The popular sentiment turned into a nationwide boycott, which forced the patent to be withdrawn. Swift was later honoured for this service to the people of Ireland. Many Irish people recognised Swift as a hero for his defiance of British authority. Many critics have seen Swift, through the persona of the Drapier, as the first to organise a “more universal Irish community”, although it is disputed as to who constitutes that community. The letters are an important part of Swift’s political writings, along with Gulliver’s Travels, A Tale of a Tub, and A Modest Proposal. One of these pamphlets inflamed the British authorities so inflamed that the printer, John Harding, was prosecuted over the effects of Wood’s coinage in Ireland. Swift analysed the forensic and economic disadvantages of Wood’s inferior coinage and found it would have been better for Ireland to produce the materials rather than export them to England. Also, the Irish authorities knew that Swift had been employed by the Tory government of Queen Anne and that he would use his abilities to undermine the Whig government of Robert Walpole.
The patent issue soon became a struggle between Prime Minister Walpole and the leaders of Ireland, and all attempts by the Irish Privy Council and the Church of Ireland to prevent the release of the coinage proved fruitless. It was soon thought by many that William Conolly’S Commissioners of the Revenue might pay the soldiers stationed in Ireland with the new coin, then the merchants of Ireland would be forced to accept the coin from the soldiers or risk military reprisal or a loss of business. This worried the leadership of Ireland and they requested help in challenging Wood’s patent and leading a boycott of the copper coin. Swift wrote under the pseudonym M. B., Drapeier, to hide from retaliation. Although the letters were condemned by theIrish parliament, with prompting from the British parliament, they were still able to inspire popular sentiment against Wood and his patent. Swift was asked by Archbishop King and Lord Chancellor Midleton to contribute to a pamphleteering campaign against Wood’s copper coins. The first complete collection of Draper’s Letters appeared in the 1734 George Faulkner edition of the Works of Jonathan Swift along with an allegorical frontispiece offering praise and thanks from the Irish people. The patent was secured by a bribe of £10,000 to the Duchess of Kendal, mistress to King George I. The copper coins were subsequently alleged to be underweight, undersized, and made from inferior materials, but assays had found they were not so, prior to their approval by the British Parliament.