My Life in Two Hemispheres/Chapter 13
THE FRENCH REVOLUTION AND ITS CONSEQUENCES IN IRELAND
First meeting of the Confederation after the French Revolution—Smith O'Brien's speech at second meeting—Proposal to obtain arms and officers from France and America postponed—Union of Irish parties recommended—Dillon and Duffy's conference with Mitchel—He declares for a Republic—Deputation to Paris—O'Brien's fear of anarchists—Samuel Ferguson's policy—Lord Clarendon's enmity to me—Dr. Evory Kennedy and Pierce Mahony—Dillon and O'Hagan on the policy of the Confederation—Prosecution of O'Brien, Meagher, and Mitchel for sedition—The Chartist discontent—Their great petition and its fate—French and Irish types of revolutionists—Continental tourists in Ireland—Arrest of Doheny, M'Gee and Meagher—Proceedings at Waterford—The Limerick soirée—O'Brien's threatened retirement—Treason Felony Act passed—The Creed of the Nation—O'Brien's letter on the subject—Arrest of Mitchel for treason felony—His trial and conviction—A rescue considered impossible—Father Kenyon and T. B. MacManus appeal to me—Delegates sent to Paris and the United States—Conference between Young and Old Ireland—Resolved to dissolve the existing associations and found a new one—Mr. John O'Connell at the last moment deserts—The Government determines to arrest the leaders, suppress the clubs, and suspend the Habeas Corpus Act.
Within a month of the Confederation debate an event occurred wholly unforeseen by either party to that contest, but destined to move both profoundly. Paris, the ganglionic centre from which European opinion so often radiated, was again in revolution; forthwith the king fled to England, and immediately a Republic was proclaimed, with some of the Frenchmen best known to the world at its head. A spasm of sympathy and confidence passed over the civilised world, and was nowhere more intense than in Ireland. Ledru Rollin and other members of the Provisional Government had proffered officers and arms to Ireland less than five years earlier; the flag of the new Government was the same that a French fleet had unfurled in Bantry Bay, the same under which a French general had scattered the British forces at Castlebar, the same under which an Irish brigade had fought on so many fields for the last half century, and it was naturally dear to Irishmen. We saw France indeed under a strange glamour in that day; a French ouvrier seemed to us a palladin in a blouse, a French soldier a missionary of liberty, and a Republican statesman the friend of universal deliverance for the oppressed. Before the news reached Dublin, one of the ordinary meetings of the Confederation had been summoned, and at that meeting it was altogether impossible to postpone welcoming the good tidings. My principal colleagues were absent at an election where Meagher contested his native city, and I had the undivided responsibility. The chair was to be occupied by a recent recruit, Lord Wallscourt, a man engrossed in social questions, and who saw in the great event only a better chance for the organisation of labour. What ought the Confederates to do? It seemed to me that we had no honourable choice. In the recent controversy we had declared that we would joyfully embrace any chance of fighting for Ireland in which not a class but the country could unite, and here the occasion had come, or it would never come in our life-time. I spoke in this sense, declaring that we had long anticipated the happy chance when Ireland would be delivered from her bondage, and to my thinking the time was now near at hand. In the Nation, where I was entitled and bound to speak without reserve, and where I committed nobody but myself, I said in the ensuing number:—
"Ireland's opportunity—thank God, and France—has come at last! Its challenge rings in our ears like a call to battle, and warms our blood like wine. It demands of us what mission we have to entrust to its ministry, so often and so fervently evoked. We must answer if we would not be slaves for ever. We must unite, we must act, we must leap all barriers but those which are divine; if needs be, we must die, rather than let 'this providential hour pass over us unliberated."
When my friends returned to town I urged on them the measures which the occasion required. Feuds in the National Party ought to end at once. It was only through unanimity and the enthusiasm of a whole nation that we could hope to succeed, and they must be got at all price. It was not difficult, I hoped, for Ireland was electrified by the tidings that every post brought from the Continent of insurrection against misgovernment, and what was impossible yesterday seemed possible and apparently easy to-day. The whole of the Confederate leaders in town agreed to this policy.
Sir Colinan O'Loghlen and Dr. Gray undertook to obtain a conference of the Old Irelanders, and I agreed to move in the Confederation that Mitchel and any who retired with him should be invited to return, and Dillon suggested that he and I should have a conference with Mitchel on ways and means. The Confederate leaders were of opinion that the occasion was as propitious as we could ever hope it to be. Pius IX. at that time stood at the head of a movement for wise and moderate reforms throughout Europe, and the Catholic Church in Ireland and elsewhere might be counted on to move with him. The English Government were at the moment engaged in negotiations with Naples to obtain for Sicily the identical concessions Ireland was asking for herself, and it might be assumed that it only needed an impulse sufficiently peremptory to induce her to concede to Ireland what she urged Naples to concede to Sicily. In England there was wide and deep discontent, which had broken into ferocious riots in some of the great towns, arising from the denial of the Chartist claims by Parliament. Nearly half the British army consisted of Irishmen, and for several years military correspondence had led us to hope that the Irish soldiers would do what the soldiers of struggling nations before and since have done whenever a national contest arose—rejoin the flag of their country. Before the conference with the Old Irelanders in Dublin took place, popular meetings were held in the great towns of Leinster and Munster, at which Nationalists of both sections declared that immediate union was the most urgent and vital of questions, Maurice O'Connell, who under many weaknesses had the heart of a genuine Nationalist, expressed the hope that no Government would be sufficiently insane to urge constitutional opposition into armed resistance, and to absolve nations from their allegiance by compelling them to self-defence.
At the next meeting of the Confederation Dillon insisted with great vigour on the policy of conciliation, and Smith O'Brien, who returned from London to attend, spoke for the first time since the great transaction in Paris. He had never before promised speedy success, but he declared that with courage and discretion the end was within view. Discretion was indispensable; if an outbreak took place at present the Government would put it down in a week. The union of parties and the organisation of the country were the business of the hour. As the amalgamation of the two existing societies was a clumsy and difficult process, he suggested that without amalgamation they should elect a joint committee which could consult upon all important occasions. If this proposal were not acceptable, the entire Repeal Party might take up a favourite project of O'Connell and elect a council of three hundred. It ought to represent both sections of the National Party authentically and be able to speak on behalf of the entire country. They must fraternise with the English Repealers and with the French people. The Confederation would probably send a deputation to the United States and recommend the formation of an Irish brigade there which might serve hereafter as the basis of an Irish army.
In our private consultations we urged on O'Brien the necessity of providing arms, money, and a few trained soldiers, and those we must seek in France or America, but he entreated us not to be impatient. He was still persuaded that a section of the gentry, large enough to complete the national character of our movement, would declare for self-government, and give it a new security for success, but he could not invite gentlemen to do so if we had entered into a negotiation to commit high treason. What we needed was an unbroken national party large enough to employ the opportunity which Heaven had sent us. A committee of citizens composed chiefly of men who had taken no recent part in politics met nightly, and Dillon, who took a large share in their deliberations, was persuaded they would be effectual agents of reunion. A number of medical students, moved, one may surmise, by the example of the Polytechnic students in Paris, determined to insist on a move in advance. Several of them were young men who ripened into professional success. The ablest and most resolute was Thomas Antisell, afterwards a distinguished chemist in the United States. Williams (Shamrock) brought enthusiasm and literary ability to the experiment, and all the young men excellent intentions; but there was not among them any of the practical sense which compares means with ends, and makes sure their designs shall not topple down from any fatal incompatibility between them.
The news from the Continent greatly aided the policy of conciliation; the discontented were everywhere lifting threatening hands against their rulers. When the conference with Mitchel took place he met us accompanied by Reilly. Never was man so metamorphosed; he used to be a modest and courteous gentleman, now he demeaned himself as if the French Revolution and the new opportunities it furnished were his personal achievements. His policy, he affirmed (for by that name he now called the plan of Fintan Lalor), was demonstrably the right one, and carried to its natural issue must succeed. When we spoke of the need of providing leaders and arms, he replied that there were arms enough in the country; and as for leaders, a people must find their own leaders. They only needed a prize worth fighting for, and he would show them such a prize by proposing to found an Irish Republic. To Dillon and myself it seemed plain that the accidental explosion of a French Revolution in February had not made his proposal in January of a peasant war any way more reasonable, and his extravagance was again likely to damage the public cause, for the suggestion of a Republic would drive off the Old Irelanders friendly to reunion as effectually as his former policy had driven off the middle classes. It was plain he was determined to take an individual course and preach an individual policy. He did so, with the result of creating a profound impression, and attracting universal attention upon himself. He warned the Lord Lieutenant that the Government must destroy him, or he would destroy them. He scoffed at State trials, and assured the Government that jurors would no longer convict; he disparaged preparation as needless, as the people were ready and eager to begin. The country was like a mine which only needed a fusee to explode it.
It was determined to send a deputation to Paris on the part of the Confederation to he believed impossible, resting on means which he considered disgraceful.the French Republic, and O'Brien consented to put himself at its head. His colleagues were Meagher, O'Gorman, and an intelligent silk-weaver named Hollywood, appointed in recognition of the place Albert-Ouvrier occupied in the Provisional Government. But O'Brien went on the mission perturbed with apprehension that the cause might be wrecked in his absence. His position was indeed pathetic, nay tragic. A gentleman of distinguished birth and liberal fortune, who was prepared to stake all he was possessed of in the interest of his native country, found his hopes of success crossed by projects which
By this time an article in the United Irishman, probably written by Reilly, recommending that vitriol should be thrown on the soldiers whenever a rising should take place, was widely quoted in the English newspapers, and in the ordinary spirit of faction attributed to the entire National Party. The night before he left London for Paris, O'Brien wrote to me:—
"I find myself connected, in the opinion of those who view things at a distance, with the proceedings of Mitchel, who is regarded as a 'bloodthirsty villain' by many who do not know his good qualities. As regards myself, painful as is this circumstance, I am contented to endure it; but I cannot, without the deepest regret, perceive the injury he has done and is daily doing to the cause of Repeal. It is because I fear that he will ruin the Confederation that I now write earnestly to exhort you not to allow him to plunge it into new difficulties."
I kept the Confederation in harmony with O'Brien's policy during his absence, but the United Irishman, over which I had no control, fell into new extravagances. The story of the deputation has been told elsewhere, and does not much concern me here. When they returned we applied ourselves with steady diligence to the policy of conciliation and popular organisation. A striking evidence of the authenticity of O'Brien's reliance on help from the middle classes came to encourage us. A Protestant Repeal Association was founded with Samuel Ferguson, a man of conspicuous honour and ability, at its head. He was the mouthpiece of opinions very welcome to the leading Confederates, but irreconcilable with the policy of the extreme party.
"God forbid," he said, "that a drop of Irish blood should be shed in vindicating any Irish right unless the Irish people be unanimous. And if you would make them unanimous, respect the opinion of your neighbours, and seek not by terrorism to compel any man to come into your ranks till his own conviction assures him he ought to do so."
Great efforts were made to bring in the representative men of the Conservative Party to this new organisation, but with only limited success. The most conspicuous of them stated his objections in terms which implied his rooted suspicion of a generous people who are among the most placable of mankind. "Duffy," he said to his correspondent, "is no bigot, but he must know well that he could not find ten men of his own creed in Ireland who would be as tolerant as himself. He may be enthusiast enough to believe it possible that he and his handful of allies could protect religious liberty in a Parliament of priest-selected members; but it is the dream of an enthusiast. He and his friend would be the first victims."
In my old age, when I have seen much of men, and have learned to measure probabilities with caution, I am persuaded the Protestant and propertied classes in Ireland would have made the best bargain that ever was open to them if they had frankly joined hands with the Catholic people in 1848. Though the leaders did not join us, a considerable impression was made on the middle class. A deputation from Ferguson's society was well received in Belfast and other Northern towns. In Lurgan the Tenant Protection Society adopted a petition for an Irish Parliament, and in Antrim nine-and-twenty Orangemen were expelled from their lodges for disobeying an order forbidding them to consort with Repealers, Popish or Protestant. In Dublin the Protestant operatives, led by the Rev. Thresham Gregg, only rejected by a small majority a resolution in favour of the new organisation; and from Belfast my friend Dr. M' Knight assured me that the Presbyterian Tenant-Righters of Ulster would give the Government no assistance against the Nationalists.
Lord Clarendon, the Lord- Lieutenant at this time, was a man who had spent his life in subordinate employments in Spain and Ireland, till his brother's death opened the way to a peerage. His subsequent experience lay altogether among the cautious movements of diplomacy, where men are trained to understate and minimise their intentions, and he was persuaded Mitchel would not have employed the language of menace and exasperation he used week after week unless an insurrection was ready to break out. He assumed, indeed, that St. Patrick's Day, a date only a month after the explosion in Paris, was fixed for a rising in Dublin. Under this impression he occupied all the strategic points in the capital with soldiers, and kept the students of Trinity College, the officers of the Bank of Ireland, the clerks and tide waiters at the Custom House, under arms during the night. It was not a surprising inference from the language of the United Irishman, but it was an altogether mistaken one. The little group of fanatics who were proclaiming immediate war à l'outrance had not provided so much as a basket of cartridge or a barrel of pike heads to begin the fight. I soon came to learn that Lord Clarendon honoured me with peculiar attention, which gradually grew more active and intense. I may notice one or two of the earlier incidents; the later ones will be dealt with hereafter. Among notable men in Dublin at this time there were three brothers named Kennedy, descendants of the old sept of O' Kennedy, but whose ancestors had reconciled themselves to the dominant Church and Government. Tristram was principal of a school of law and agent of the Marquis of Bath's estate in the county Monaghan, an office which he performed so humanely and discreetly that he was sent to Parliament in the popular interest a few years later than the period we have now reached. Colonel Pitt, the eldest, was a soldier who had served with distinction in India; and when he came home was so disgusted with the agrarian system he found in operation in Ireland that he relieved his heart by a pamphlet, whose purpose may be discerned from its title, "Instruct, Employ; Don't Hang 'Em"; but in this year it was whispered, and the whisper proved to be well founded, that he had become an agent to the Castle to furnish arms to the Northern Orangemen to be used against the Nationalists. The third brother was Dr. Evory, a fashionable accoucheur and a Court physician. The doctor was announced in the editor's room one afternoon, and called, he said, to have a little talk on current events. He had no intelligible business there, but I soon discovered he came on a special mission. After a disquisition at large he took occasion to say that the Lord-Lieutenant, who was a man of philosophy and penetration, often told him how clearly he discriminated between statesmen who aimed to bring about constitutional changes by constitutional means, even though they included the means which brought in the House of Nassau and the House of Hanover, and Anarchists who loved terrorism and violence for their own sake. He recognised me as belonging to the former class. I interrupted him with a bantering laugh, and told him I was very busy just then, but as soon as I had leisure I would inquire what weakness or folly I had committed that had rendered me liable to the favour of the Earl of Clarendon. At a Lord Mayor's dinner shortly after Pierce Mahony, known in those days as the Prince of Attorneys, exhibited a strong desire to discuss some question with me, and kept parading me about for a time, and then made a full stop. A little crowd of aides-de-camp and the like suddenly dispersed, and I found I had been inveigled into a position fit for my personal inspection by the Viceroy. My appearance must not have been satisfactory to his Excellency, for I heard from time to time in the subterranean whispers in which Court secrets escape that I was to be made an example, and he spared no pains in the end to accomplish that result; but the most shocking example the era has yielded was a Viceroy who entered into friendly and familiar relations with the editor of the World, a journal living by hush-money and private slander.
The best men in the Confederation thought it their first duty at this time to make the real aims of the body clear and certain, a purpose which a single extract from the history of the period will sufficiently illustrate:—
"At a meeting in the beginning of April, Dillon directed public attention anew to our actual aims. There were Republicans in the Confederation, but it ought to be clearly understood that the object of that body was not the establishment of a Republic, but the Legislative Independence of Ireland; nor was its policy agrarian insurrection, but the creation of a Council of Three Hundred to represent the entire nation; and armament was recommended that the people might be in a position to defend their rights from aggression. Mr. John O'Hagan, in the only public speech he delivered in that era, seconded Dillon's purpose. He moved a resolution repudiating the statement of Lord John Russell that the Confederation promoted social disorder, or desired violent separation from England. Their aim was the Legislative Independence of Ireland, and thereby the attainment of social order, and they desired that such independence might be attained, if possible, without war. For his part, he advocated this policy because he detested anarchy from his soul. But starvation, rack-rents, and eviction, the absence of trade and manufactures, a government without root or base in the confidence of the people, was not social order. The bloody three-act tragedy so often performed in this unhappy country—the peasant flung out to perish by the wayside, the landlord murdered, the assassin dying on a gibbet—was not order, but anarchy."
Lord John Russell declared in the House of Commons that never had treason so naked been spoken in any country as in Ireland of late, and as a necessary sequence State prosecutions were ordered. I have postponed noticing that before the mission to France O'Brien and Meagher were indicted for recent speeches, and Mitchel for writings in the United Irishman, Had MitchePs doctrine, that Dublin jurors would no longer convict at the instance of the Crown, been well founded, here was an opportunity for a signal triumph; but he pleaded what is called a "dilatory plea," and postponed his trial, which in the end never came off. Meagher and O'Brien closed with the prosecution. In each case one juror refused to convict and a second trial was threatened. Meagher and O'Brien gave bail to appear when called upon, and proceeded to Paris to fulfil their mission to the Provisional Government.
At the same time the British Cabinet had grave troubles at home. There was no country in Europe where the revolution in Paris wrought more startling changes than in England. The working classes had been long discontented, and the mass of them organised as Chartists claimed to exceed the population of Scotland. Their discontent, which had been chiefly declamatory, now took the most menacing shape. They had before forbade anti-Corn Law meetings, and occupied churches to the exclusion of the congregation; they now spoke openly of arms and menaced an attack on London. Their wrongs and the redress they sought were set out in a petition, the signatures to which were said to outnumber the male population of London; but some of those signatures proved to be fictitious or burlesque, a discovery which seriously diminished the importance of the document. It was determined to present this huge petition to Parliament, and to escort it to Palace Yard by a muster of the Chartists of London and Middlesex. The Government forbade the procession, and enrolled an army of special constables to co-operate with the police and military in resisting it. Feargus O'Connor advised submission to the authorities, and the effect was like the Clontarf retreat in Ireland five years earlier; the confidence of the Chartists was dissipated, and in a moment their movement lost its strength and terror. The Government, which had been much perturbed, was now jubilant and contemptuous of opposition. It was at this time O'Brien returned from his deputation to Paris, and when he attempted to tell the House of Commons the history and moral of that enterprise he was received with jeers and insults. The young bucks of the army, who are always the most unmannerly of opponents, distinguished themselves on this occasion. O'Brien retired from that scene of riotous disorder, persuaded that there was no longer any hope of a peaceful settlement with England. Mitchel continued to summon the Government to an immediate surrender or an immediate conflict, but the policy of the Confederates was conducted in a different spirit. The union with the Old Irelanders advanced, clubs were founded' in many new places, and the project of a Council of Three Hundred, in which both parties would be fairly represented, and which would speak with authority, was pressed on.
Lamartine's "History of the Girondists" was widely read at this time, and one of the survivors of that prolific era reminds me how speculative persons insisted that they could discover among Irish Celts the identical types Lamartine had exhibited among the Gallic branch of the race. "Lafayette, the gentleman of ancient lineage and generous nature, become a leader and spokesman of the suffering people, did he not live again in Smith O'Brien? Vergniaud, the son of a provincial bourgeois, raised by his splendid gifts to be the orator of his race, was it not an earlier Meagher? Robespierre, the country lawyer, accepted as their chief by the Jacobins of Paris, because he was always more Jacobin than they, was it not Mitchel? Was not Dillon the prudent, the steadfast Brissot; Dillon's father-in-law, William O'Hara, marvellously youthful and resourceful under his grey hairs, was Dumouriez; John Martin, the honest, simple Mayor Bailly; M'Gee, Camille Desmoulins; and Duffy, who organised the movement in his closet, Carnot." But woe is me! there was one fatal difference, none of these accomplished the work which made the names of their prototypes immortal.
The state of Ireland excited lively interest on the Continent, and many French and German tourists might be encountered in the country this year, and some English philosophers who were persuaded they could master the Irish problem from the sunny side of an Irish jaunting car. Among visitors of a better sort was M. John Lemoinne, of the Journal des Debats, afterwards an academician and a senator. He brought me an introduction from Frazer Corkoran, the Paris correspondent of the Standard, an Irishman and crypto-Nationalist. M. Lemoinne was a strong contrast to our ideal of a political Frenchman placid, circumspect, and deliberate, he looked like an Englishman draped by a French tailor.
O'Brien determined to make a tour of Munster to judge of the spirit of the people. He was received everywhere with boundless enthusiasm, which was interpreted in that day of revolutions as a pledge of battle. Meagher and Doheny held a monster meeting at Slievenamon, and exhorted the people to prepare for a conflict.
M'Gee, Doheny, and other Confederates were arrested for the share they had taken in these meetings, but admitted to bail. Meagher was arrested in his native town, and the mass of the population turned out to rescue him. The long bridge which spans the Suir was barricaded, and the Club men entreated him to give the signal for immediate resistance; but Meagher insisted that they should wait for the advice of the leaders in Dublin. No place could be more unsuitable than Waterford to begin an insurrection; it is divided by a navigable river which was at that moment occupied by three war steamers, which could shell any part of the city at discretion. But the popular feeling in Munster was growing more high and confident, till it was checked by a disastrous transaction.
Before O'Brien started on his Munster mission, it had been proposed in the Confederation that Meagher and Mitchel should accompany him. O'Brien told Mitchel frankly that he could not possibly accept his co-operation, as their intentions were widely different, and Mitchel admitted his right to object, and announced that, under the circumstances, he would not go to Munster. While O'Brien was pursuing his mission, a soirée of Nationalists was projected at Limerick, and when O'Brien arrived, he found Mr. Mitchel in attendance. He was deeply offended, and proposed to retire immediately. Mitchel said he had been invited by the promoters of the soirée, and he did not consider himself prohibited from accepting such an invitation by the agreement not to accompany O'Brien. To the Limerick people, who were largely leavened with Old Irelandism, it proved that Mitchel, who had written savagely about O'Connell, was peculiarly odious, and they determined, it was said, to burn the edifice where the soirée was held, to drive him away. Stones began to rattle on the roof and the door, and a serious riot seemed inevitable. O'Brien, who had long been the most popular man in Limerick, ordered the door to be opened, and presented himself, with a view to allay the storm. In the darkness and confusion, and probably under the exasperation of political fury, a stone was thrown, which wounded him painfully in the face. As soon as the mischance was discovered, an escort of twenty men was selected from the crowd to see him safe home. But his sensitive honour and self-respect had been wounded more acutely than his visage, and next day he announced his intention of retiring from public affairs till the Irish people would altogether abandon their senseless feuds. No man at that time was so important to the cause as O'Brien. If he retired, the negotiations with Conciliation Hall, which had been protracted but not abandoned, would probably fall through, and the middle class, who justly regarded a man of his character and position as a security against insensate projects, would be panic-stricken. The leading men among his constituents besought him to withdraw his resignation, and letters and addresses to the same effect came from all parts of the island, but for a time in vain. While these transactions were happening in Munster, the Treason Felony Act came into operation. It was passed with the speed of an express train, and suppressed liberty of speech and liberty of the Press in controversies on the Irish Question. Sedition, spoken or written, hitherto punishable with a short imprisonment, was transformed into Treason- Felony, punishable with penal servitude for life, or periods of long duration, at the discretion of the court. Had it existed in O'Connell's time, he might have been deported to Botany Bay for the Mallow Defiance. It forbade "open and advised" speaking on public interests with an exasperating defiance which made such speaking, at all hazards, a duty. I determined in such a crisis to reiterate, with unequivocal plainness, the ends we sought and the means we employed, and carried out my purpose in a long and deliberate article entitled the "Creed of the Nation" afterwards circulated as a Confederate tract. An unexpected consequence which it produced, makes it necessary to give some brief précis of it here:—
My opinions, I said, were misrepresented by Cabinet Ministers and official journals, and I was determined to set them out in terms which could not be mistaken. The Nation was a National, not a Jacobin, journal. To me liberty has still meant more light, more order, more justice. It typified a higher moral and social condition of existence. I should never consent to dwarf it down to the selfish scheme of a class in society, or the pedantic theory of a sect in politics. Revolution I regarded as inevitable—all the signs that foreboded it in history, all the wrongs that justify it, existed in Ireland at that moment.
I love peace, I fear disorder—I hate anarchy; but the sudden and violent remedy of an hour, though it pain us to the quick, is better than the perpetual helplessness of disease. If this is our only resource, let it come. It is just and well-timed; for of all nations that have arisen for their liberty, and achieved it among the plaudits of mankind, there is not one which suffered so deeply, or won the right of resistance by a patience more forbearing and protracted than our own.
But let it be understood that what the Irish people claimed, was just and eminently reasonable, and ought to be conceded without a physical conflict.
An Independent Parliament, elected by the widest possible suffrage, a Responsible Ministry, and a Viceroy of Irish birth, will content the country; and they will defend such a settlement against all aggression from without or from within. Such a Parliament would inevitably establish Tenant Right, abolish the Established Church, providing for existing interests, and endeavour to settle the claims of labour upon some solid and satisfactory basis. But one step further in the direction of revolution I do not believe it would go.
The Confederates desire a revolution, not of vengeance, but of restored rights, won by negotiation if possible, and if impossible, by the sword of the patriot, not the bludgeon of the assassin.
I maintain that such a settlement, made by negotiation between the two countries, would preserve all the existing rights that ought to be preserved, and would promise permanence, as far as any settlement could in such a stormy era of human affairs.
I would prefer it, I said, to a republic won by insurrection. I am deeply convinced a large majority of the Repealers of Ireland share this feeling. And why? Not from any unmanly abhorrence of war, which is noble and glorious waged for one's country, but because insurrection would plant deadly animosities between men of the same Irish race, and because the sudden transition of a people from Provincialism to Republicanism, passing through no intermediate stage, is an experiment for which we are not fit.
The condition of the country at the moment, I insisted, was desperate. Lying under the same sky as England, as fruitful in soil, and as fit for commerce, why was one a beggar and the other a millionaire? Was the cause any other than misgovernment, forced on us at the point of the bayonet?
A famine which fell upon Europe tested this system of foreign government to the core. Every state in Christendom, from the Great Powers to the pettiest dukedom in Italy and Germany, protected its people from starvation, for the rulers were of their own blood and race. Here the revenue of three years was squandered in one, in ignorant and audacious experiments, made in defiance of counsel and remonstrance from all classes of Irishmen.
The most destructive wars, the inhuman massacres whose memory appals mankind; the scourges of God, the plague and the cholera, never desolated a nation like this famine. Men fell dead daily in the streets and by the wayside, and were flung coffinless into the earth. Whole districts were swept bare as a desert of human life. Men fled from it into exile, dying in multitudes on the sea, or perishing in foreign countries, till a new plague sprung from the stench of their unburied corpses. A population larger than that of some Free States of Europe was destroyed by these inhuman deaths.
The Prime Minister of England, looking upon the desolation which has made our country a graveyard and a lazar house, tells us that he will resist our just claims for the management of our own affairs with the sword of the Empire. How can we answer but with the sword of Ireland? If famine has weakened the right arm of the people it has not paralysed His arm who rules the destinies of battles and fights by the side of the oppressed. Shall we tamely submit to see the last remnant of the Irish race and name sacrificed to the greedy and insolent spirit of English dominion? With God's blessing, no. We will sustain our natural right to this island against all enemies. All Ireland, from sea to sea, is arming and organising to uphold and enforce this right. The example of popular success throughout Europe, the threatening aspect of foreign nations, the sympathy of the English masses, and the triumphant justice of our cause may give us a peaceful victory. Heaven send it! But if not my conscience is clear that we are able and entitled to take it. This is my belief. I seek no ingenious form of expression to shroud the naked thought. If we cannot save our country by peace, I am for war. And that we may save it by peace or war, I am for the universal arming and organisation of the people.
This was the concluding paragraph:—
"This was the creed of the Nation. I am entitled to answer for myself and my fellow-labourers alone; but I believe it is substantially the creed of the Irish Confederation. They do not demand Republicanism—they demand the legislative independence of Ireland, and will guard it jealously if it come by free negotiation. If independence must come by force, a Republic is inevitable and welcome. But in a free Parliament or a free Congress the rights of private property, the just rights of every class in the State will be sacred. I proclaimed at the opening of this movement, and I will practise to the end of it—to the last throes of revolution—a national amnesty; full forgiveness of the past—the quarrels of yesterday, the quarrels of three hundred years."
I had liberated my mind, it might be at the penalty of transportation, for the new Penal Law was now in operation, but at any rate the ends for which I and my friends contended were placed full in the sunlight.
In a day or two O'Brien sent me the glad tidings that he withdrew his resignation, and he requested that the subjoined note might be published in the Nation:—
"Dublin, May 2, 1848.
"My dear Duffy,—I have read with extreme pleasure your letter which appeared in the last publication of the Nation, under the designation of 'The Creed of the Nation.'
"Without venturing to speak on behalf of other Confederates I think it right, under present circumstances, to state that I am fully prepared to hold myself responsible, both morally and legally, for the sentiments contained in that letter.—Believe me, yours very truly,
"William S. O'Brien."
Mitchel and Reilly retired from the Confederation in deference to O'Brien's feelings, and returned to it no more.
The failure of the prosecution against O'Brien and Meagher, and Mitchel's postponement of his trial by a legal device, enraged the Government, and they arrested Mitchel on the 13th day of May, to answer an indictment for treason-felony under the new Act. I have written in elaborate detail the history of this State trial, and a single extract and brief precis will suffice here:—
"Two successive victories begot extravagant hopes, and the bulk of the Confederates were confident that he could not be convicted. But this was counting without the sheriff's office, and forgetting the special prejudice which Mitchel's extreme opinions excited.
"In the Council there was deep anxiety and alarm. They felt that the Government could not afford to be defeated again, and defeated by a man who had so often predicted this disaster. The question was, how could it be averted? To inflame opinion till it grew red-hot against the base practice of jury-packing might alarm the class of jurors upon whom the Castle counted. A great open-air meeting of Confederates was summoned for this purpose, and the general body of citizens met in the Royal Exchange with a similar object. It was necessary to consider at the same time what was to be done in case of a conviction. A small minority of the Council thought preparations ought immediately to be made for a rescue. If the Government could carry off a man who had so completely identified himself with the revolution it would greatly dishearten the people. It was determined to ascertain the wishes of the clubs and their state of preparation.
"When we took stock of our resources, it appeared that Dublin city and county had thirty clubs, numbering from two hundred to five hundred members each; other cities were about as well provided; but though an agrarian revolution had been constantly insisted upon as the road to liberty, there was not one club in the agricultural districts. Lalor assumed, indeed, and Mitchel after him, that the trampled peasantry were as ready for insurrection as gunpowder for the match, but this proved to be a rash and fatal assumption.
"It was easy, at the same time, to count the muster-roll of our antagonists and note their elaborate precautions. There were ten thousand troops in the city, perfectly armed and equipped, and nearly forty-thousand in the country; all the strategic points were occupied and fortified. There was not a week's supply of food in Dublin, and all the food in the island, except what was growing in the soil, was in warehouses where the English army could reduce it to ashes in four-and- twenty hours. But the chief difficulty of a rescue was one created by Mitchel himself. He had scoffed at the necessity of systematic preparation, and there was no depot of arms or ammunition. He had declared a leader would come with the necessity, and there was no officer among the Confederates who could take charge of a company. Some of his partisans had arms, and were perhaps provided with ammunition for a day or a week; but a man who sympathised with him declared that they did not know, with certainty, where to lay their hands on the first wheelbarrow and pickaxe to throw up the first barricade. Money is the sinews of revolution even more than of war; if the ordinary method of supplying food were interrupted, a famine would ensue in a few days, and it was certain the ordinary method could only be maintained by paying for necessary articles at least the usual price. But those who insisted on immediate revolution had no funds whatever.
"Meagher and O'Gorman made a personal inspection of the Dublin clubs with a view to determine whether, as far as they were concerned, a rescue was feasible. They sought information from all sources, and they arrived at the conclusion that the people were unprepared, unorganised, unarmed, and incapable of being even roughly disciplined for such an attempt. In truth, the insensate policy of deriding preparation had borne its natural fruit—no one was prepared.
"O'Brien and Dillon were convinced before this survey of the clubs that a rescue could not be undertaken without ruin to the cause. It was now May, and they hoped to secure a general and simultaneous rising in the autumn, when the new food supplies would be available, and farm labourers could be withdrawn from their ordinary employment without public disaster, and when a union of parties, perhaps of classes, was attained, and funds and munitions of war provided. They now took, frankly and unreservedly, the ground that no such attempt must be made."
After a single week's imprisonment Mitchel's trial took place, which I have described elsewhere. The Government had packed this panel with such skill that before forty-eight hours had elapsed their warship was carrying him to penal servitude. When his sentence was pronounced the wrath and rage of his friends caused the judges to fly in a panic from the court, but no rescue was attempted, and disappointed expectations chilled and irritated public opinion.
Next day Father Kenyon, accompanied by my friend T. B. MacManus, and another gentleman from the North of England, came to my residence to demand what could be done for the cause. I replied that the delay of preparation had nearly ruined our chance, but we still might and ought to make the preparations which Mitchel had derided. We ought to send to France for officers and arms, and to America for officers and money. MacManus promised that he would seize a couple of the largest Irish steamers at Liverpool, load them with ammunition and arms from Chester Castle, where there were supplies for an army. It was agreed to hold a conference, to which I undertook to bring two of the Confederate leaders, and Father Kenyon two of the extreme party.
At the conference Kenyon, Martin, and Reilly represented one section—Dillon, Duffy, and a gentleman whom I refrain from naming, the other. Then and there, for the first time, measures were taken to obtain money, arms, and officers from abroad, to make a diversion in England, and procure the co-operation of the Irish residents there, and to prepare particular local men to expect the event.
We communicated to O'Brien that some precautions were taken without specifying them. It was a secret relief to men who loved him, and made full allowance for the peculiar difficulty of his position, that they could take this risk wholly on themselves. Enough was said to keep good faith; not enough to create responsibility. Of the three agents chosen for America and France two are still living. One was chosen by Dillon, the other was Martin MacDermott, who went to Paris; the third was William Mitchel, brother of John Mitchel. Mitchel's nearest friends, indeed, entered into the task of making the preparations which he had derided, and Lalor, who had held aloof from Mitchel, now assumed the lead in the new journal, and insisted there week after week that nothing must be undertaken without careful preconcert:—
"Two or three signal facts will enable us to gauge the hopes and fears of the hour. On the one hand, the Chartists sent to Dublin Mr. Leech, of Manchester, and Mr. Kydd, of Glasgow, to promise immediate co-operation whenever a blow was struck. On the other hand, Lord Clarendon sent his children to England for safety, and the Times made arrangements for receiving its expresses by way of Cork and Bristol in case Dublin should fall into the hands of the Confederates."
And what at the time seemed more hopeful, the long-delayed Conference between Old and Young Ireland, met at the Freeman's Journal office daily for a week, and agreed to the terms of a compromise. It was determined to dissolve the two Associations, and create a new one to be called the Irish League. The Committee of the Repeal Association and the Council of the Confederation accepted the terms, and ordered that public meetings should be called to confirm them.
When the proceedings had reached this stage Mr. John O'Connell, who was one of the delegates, astounded us by a new difficulty. He had received a warning that he was on a wrong path from a person "whose importance could not be overrated"; and he required a fortnight for further consideration, and to ascertain the opinion of the country. A fortnight wasted at such an era was a grievous loss; but the Confederates bore it good-humouredly. They utilised the interval in founding clubs; as clubs—so it was conditioned—were to be kept entirely separate from the League. How Mr. John O'Connell employed it is a matter of conjecture; but at the close of the fortnight he announced that he would not join the League, but retire for a time from public life. He was charged at the moment with being a tool of Lord Clarendon's to keep separate the priests and the Confederates; but it is possible that he was merely influenced by doubt and trepidation, for his mind was as unsteady as a quagmire. The June revolution in Paris, in which a hundred thousand workmen rose against the Republic which they had created, the murder of the Archbishop of Paris engaged in a mission of peace, the scorn of the Pope's concession in Italy by men who would hear patiently of nothing but a republic, alienated the clergy and the middle classes throughout Europe, and enabled the Castle Press to predict what enormities Smith O'Brien and his Associates had in view. But the Confederates pursued their task persistently; each of them undertook to organise a district of the country into clubs, and the first meeting of the Irish League was fixed to be held in July. But the Government, encouraged by the state of public feeling and the failure of complete union, resolved, as we now know, to strike three heavy blows in succession—to arrest the leaders, to suppress the clubs, and to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act. My arrest was the first that took place.
- O'Brien delayed coming to town from a determination to allow the Confederates to choose their own course, but he protracted this generous reserve to a dangerous extreme, and I besought him to come to the Council without delay. "There will be an outburst sooner or later, be sure of that, but unless you provide against it, it will be. a mere democratic one, which the English Government will extinguish in blood. Or if, by a miracle, it succeeds, it will mean death and exile to the middle as well as the upper classes. As Ireland lies under my eye now I see but one safety for her—a union of the Old and Young Irelanders, an arraying of the middle class in the front of the millions, and a peaceful revolution, attained by watching and seizing our opportunity. By peaceful I mean without unnecessary or anarchical bloodshed. It may be won without a shot being fired. But trust me, if there is no such junction, and if things are let to take the course they are tending towards, we will see the life of the country trampled out under the feet of English soldiers, suppressing a peasant insurrection; or you and I will meet on a Jacobin scaffold, ordered for execution as enemies of some new Marat or Robespierre, Mr. James Lalor, or Mr. Somebody else. It is the fixed and inevitable course of revolutions when the strength of the middle classes is permitted to waste in inaction."—"Cahirmoyle Correspondence" (Duffy to O'Brien).
- Mitchel's Republicanism was an altogether unexpected development. In answer to a suggestion in Fraser's Magazine that the Young Irelanders were Republicans, he had written in complete contradiction: "Be it known to Fraser's Magazine, and all Cockneyland, that those persons are not Republicans; that theories of government have but little interest for them; that the great want and unvarying aim of them all is a National Government, no matter what may be its form; that those of them who may be democrats in abstract principle, yet prefer an oligarchy of our own aristocrats to the most popular forms of rule under foreign institutions and foreign governors; that those of them who are aristocrat in feeling are yet ready to say, 'Give us our own democracy to rule over us before the haughtiest peerage. of another nation.'"
- The Rev. Mortimer O'Sullivan.
- Later, when Dr. Evory Kennedy became candidate for his native city, Londonderry, he was made the subject of an epigram worth recording:—
"Evory for Derry, woe, and shame, and pity;
An accoucheur—and for the Maiden City."
- There was a newspaper in Dublin named the World, living by blackmail extorted from the weak and the criminal, and all the base arts with which the Satirist in London had made man familiar. Its character was so well known that the editor had been convicted and sent to jail for attempting to obtain hush-money. With this person, whom the Crown Counsel afterwards described as "a hang-dog looking wretch," an "assassin of character," and "one of the basest of mankind," Lord Clarendon entered into personal negotiations. He admitted him to confidential interviews, gave him money, and furnished him with hints for turning French politics to account in assailing the Young Irelanders in articles afterwards quoted in England as the testimony of an impartial writer.—"Four Years of Irish History."
- "Four Years of Irish History."
- Here is a specimen of a fine, fierce, democratic ballad by Mr. W. J. Linton, which interpreted the spirit of the times:—
"Up! up! ye English peasantry for whom Wat Tyler bled.
Up, city serfs, whose sturdy sires Cade and Ardchamber led.
Up, up, if ye be Englishmen, be mindful of the day
When Cromwell strode o'er Worcester field and scared a king away.
Though Kett and Cade, and Tyler failed the 'crowning mercy' came,
Hurrah! for England's stalwart ones, your fortune be the same."
- The effect the transaction produced on generous minds was symbolised in a letter from "Speranza":—
"What," she wrote to me, "can be done with such idiots and savages but leave them to John O' Council, a traitor and a coward, and their suitable leader. This noble Smith O'Brien, who has sacrificed all for the people, and who could gain nothing in return, for no position, however exalted, could add to his dignity, whose whole life has been a sacrifice for his country—a self-immolation, and this is the man who has to be guarded by English from Irish murderers! I cannot endure to think of it. We are disgraced for ever before Europe, and justly so. Adieu."
- During the brief existence of the United Irishman I had great reason to complain of Mitchel's conduct towards me. But controversy between us would have rent the Confederate party into fragments, and the consequences of the controversy with O'Connell were before my eyes. Dillon and Meagher besought me not to endanger the cause, and I was silent under exasperating provocation. In this personal narrative, however, it is essential to speak of these facts, but it will be more convenient to do so at the era when Mitchel returned from Tasmania and provoked a controversy and was able to defend himself.
- "Four Years of Irish History," bk. iii. chap. ii.
- "Four Years of Irish History."
- John Martin, from fidelity to his friend, established, a journal called the Irish Felon to carry on the teachings of the United Irishman.