I am the son of an honest man, a minister of that gospel which breathes peace and good will among men; a Protestant Dissenting minister, in the town of Belfast; whose spirit I am accustomed to look up, in every trying situation, as my mediator and intercessor with Heaven. He was the friend and associate of good, I may say, great men; of Abernethy, of Bruce, of Duchal, and of Hucheson; and his character of mild and tender benevolence is still remembered by many in the North of Ireland, and by not a few in this city.
I may be imprudent in mentioning, that he was, and that I glory to be, a Protestant Dissenter, […] one of that division of Protestants who regard no authority on earth, in matters of religion, save the words and the works of its author, and whose fundamental principle it is, that every person has a right, and in proportion to his abilities, is under an obligation, to judge for himself in matters of religion; a right, subservient to God alone, not a favour to be derived from the gratuitous lenity of government; a right, the resignation of which produces slavery on the one hand, persecution on the other.
Thomas Drennan (1696–14 Feb 1768) as described by his son William Drennan, in An Intended Defence in a Trial for Sedition, in the year 1794. William links his adherence to religious freedom and toleration to his father, and his father’s friends Francis Hutcheson, William Bruce, John Abernathy and John Duchal. The Latin footnote in the text is a further eulogy to Thomas Drennan.
I should much desire that a society were instituted in this city having much of the secresy and somewhat of the ceremonial of Free-Masonry. … A benevolent conspiracy—A Plot for the People—No Whig Club—no party Title—The Brotherhood its name—the right of Man and the greatest happiness of the greatest numbers its End. Its general end Real Independence of Ireland, and republicanism its particular purpose. Its business, every means to accomplish these ends as the prejudices and bigotry of the Land we live in would permit. . . .
Extract from a letter sent by William Drennan to Samuel McTier, 21st May 1791 (Agnew, Drennan-McTier Letters, vol. 1, p. 357). A few months later the Society of United Irishmen was formed. William Drennan’s aim of “the right of Man and the greatest happiness of the greatest numbers its End” echoes the philosophy of Francis Hutcheson. Drennan’s father, Thomas Drennan was a close friend of Hutcheson and had been his assistant teaching in Dublin.