From The United Irishman, April 29, 1899.
For years past we have sacrificed our liberty of thought, speech, and action on the altar of an idol yclept Political Expediency – a fouler demon than Saturn of the Carthaginians. And this we have done, most of us, thinking it patriotic, some of us doubtful, and a few of us knowing it to be wrong, but unable to revolt or fearful of being stoned as blasphemers if we did. The worship of this infernal deity has wrought woe in the land and degradation in the National character. All through the century the work of the Irish patriots has been consistently undone by the Irish politicians. Tone pointed out as the goal of National effort an independent Ireland, O’Connell plucked from the people’s heart Tone’s ideal, and cleared the way for England to compass her famine-slaughter of the Irish.
The Revolutionist taught his countrymen to be men, the Agitator taught them to be dastards. Young Ireland could not save them from the consequences, and Fenianism, taking up Young Ireland’s interrupted work, had to struggle against the effect of a half-century of false teaching on the mind of the nation in addition to struggling against the might of Britain. Because Fenianism failed in the first attempt to achieve its main object, the false prophets were enabled to draw again after them a people inured by habits of servitude to judge the wisdom and efficacy of policies by their apparent material results or their momentary success or defeat. Since then Ireland has been led by the men who proclaim its willingness to accept a modification of foreign dominion as a full discharge of the National demand. The natural consequence has been the weakening of the National spirit and the lowering of the National morale. Ireland is being educated up to the uselessness of self-reliance.
Were we to argue as illogically as those pseudo-leaders of men who point to the incidents of a self-reliant and revolutionary policy as its results, we might well charge them with responsibility for the increasing poverty and decreasing strength of the nation. A constitutional policy alone has little potency to affect a change in international relations between a weak and a powerful nation. Not Deak but Kossuth was the real winner of even the semi-independence of Hungary.
No Irish Nationalist denounces constitutional action against England solely because it is constitutional. He merely declines to set it up as a fetish. If such action can aid the realisation of the National object it would be folly not to use it. On the other hand he will not hesitate to use unconstitutional action when he deems it well to do so. The political oaf will oppose unconstitutional action because it is unconstitutional and because he is incapable of comprehending that Right and Wrong are no more determined by a constitution than they are by a policeman and that no man living in his own country under a constitution framed and established without his or his countrymen’s approval or acquiescence, has the slightest moral obligation to obey or respect it.
At the present time, I grant, unconstitutional action – which in Ireland means armed opposition to foreign domination and refusal to obey foreign law – would be unwise, since it could not be sustained. I cherish no delusion as to England’s strength; I have heard the thunder of her cannon in three continents and seen her ships of war patrolling a dozen seas. We cannot cope in the field with England today, but only the fool believes that what is must for ever endure. England is powerful, but not all-powerful – she is strong, but not invincible; and while I am convinced it would be impolitic at present to use unconstitutional methods I maintain my right and the right of every Irishman to resort to them at any time to serve the interests of Irish Nationalism, that is, the interests of Ireland. Nor do I advise resistance to the law, since at this juncture any general resistance to it would place us in a position which would be untenable. Non-resistance to the law and acquiescence in it are, however, different things, and in it Irish Nationalists will never acquiesce until the Irish Nation becomes it creator.
“Acquiescence in oppression is an admission of its right, and that admission daily enfeebles the oppressed whilst it more than in the same proportion strengthens the usurper, for it add opinion to his cause.”
And here I may express my abhorrence of the action of certain men who in recent days counselled the people to break the law and shirk the consequences. During the last dozen years many public meetings called by the Home Rulers have been proclaimed illegal by the British Government in Ireland. In defiance of such proclamation, acting on the advice of the Parliamentarians, the people have assembled. So far there was nothing morally wrong. But when, to uphold the law, the forces of the British Crown, have been let loose, with baton and bayonet, on its humbler violators, the leaders who induced the people to challenge the combat have ordered them to run away from it – to offer no resistance, but to take home their broken heads and battered bodies in peace; and a despicable Press has trumpeted every such humiliation of Ireland as “A Great National Victory.” No policy was more calculated to make slaves and cowards than this and the men responsible for it were dastards every one.
By such teachings the National spirit has been weakened that before any attempt can be made to cope with the enemy educational work must be taken up. For this purpose, I urge the establishing of a National organisation with the openly-avowed ultimate object of ending British rule in this country, fearlessly asserting its intention of securing that object at all hazards and by any means, but honestly acknowledging its present inability to lead Ireland to victory against the armed might of her enemy; confining itself, for some time, to the disciplining of the mind and the training of the forces of the nation, whilst impressing on it that, in the last resort, nothing save the weapons of freemen can regain its independence. Such an organisation can be formed and work openly in the light of day without breaking any law, human, divine, or British. It need have no secrecy about it whatsoever. I am not to be taken as opposed to secrecy in Irish National movements; but at the present time I do not consider it either necessary or politic. When it becomes essential let us be as secret as the brethren of the Rosy Cross. Such an organisation should, I suggest, require only two qualifications from its members – one, that they declare themselves advocates of an Irish Republic, the other, that they be persons of decent character. Possibly there may be a few persons amongst us who while subscribing to the doctrine of National independence are not republicans. If such there be I would remind them, as Mitchel did their fathers, that the time has passed when Jehovah anointed kings; but though I am a believer in republican systems of government, I am ready – as I believe is every other Irish Nationalist – to accept any form of native government in preference to alien rule.
The National organisation should be free from the influence of men holding position in the British institutions of Ireland. I do not suggest the exclusion of any Irishman from its ranks who may happen to be a member of the British Parliament or of any of the newly-created local governing bodies, but I do suggest the exclusion of all such persons from office in the organisation. Such an association should suffer no risk of being made, in its whole or in its parts, subservient to the parochial ambitions of petty men. The individual member might take what part he pleased in local affairs provided he did not utilise his connection with the National organisations in such matters. The immediate work of such an organisation should be to make the people think and to create a healthy and fearless public opinion – not as an end, but as a means to an end. It should adopt no attitude of antagonism to the Parliamentarians; but point out to the people that Parliamentarianism is not Nationalism, and leave them, in their own judgement, to give it what support they pleased. Toleration, free, impersonal criticism, and sympathy with every man, seeking, after his own lights, the welfare of our common country should be distinguishing characteristics of the organisation and its members.
Every member of such an organisation, like every citizen of a free state, must be prepared, on occasion, to willingly bow to the opinion of the majority, but he should not be required to renounce his own views nor to cease from endeavouring to convince his brethren of their wisdom. This is unity amongst freemen, not the hideous thing we have been accustomed to so long in Ireland which throttled or gagged every man whose views differed from those of a majority. Briefly, I propose the formation of a National Republican organisation in Ireland, pursuing for the present a British-law-abiding and educational policy in Ireland and cultivating also an Irish foreign policy. To outline one here is not, at present, necessary. It is sufficient to know that Ireland can make its power felt in every division of the world save, perhaps, one, and can make itself an object of concern to England’s three great European enemies – Russia, France, and Germany. To shape a concrete scheme for an organisation on these lines requires no labour. To make it successful requires the coming together of all Irish Nationalists, sinking personal differences, and bringing all their enthusiasm to the task. There is nothing brilliant or original about my suggestion, but I think there is something practical. That, however, those who read must decide, and I am willing to alter or modify, take from or add to it when anyone points out how the National cause can be better served by so doing. A nation of men with disciplined minds, knowing their rights, their duties, their strength, and their weakness can bring the realisation of the cause of Ireland’s patriots and martyrs within practical range, but if no attempt be made to create such a nation, Ireland with her dwindling population and her gods of clay needs but another generation or two of British Government to lose all characteristics of, and all claims to possess the rights of, a distinctive Nationality.
Possibly indeed some harp-strumming, bastard Nationality may be cherished by the couple of million West Britons who may then dwell upon her soil, probably not even that. Before, however, such a triumph of British civilisation could be consummated Britain would have some more strangling work to do; nevertheless, without the turning of the people to the ideals of Tone and Davis the complete and utter destruction of the Irish nation is humanly certain, and the slaves reared in Ireland in future generations may scrawl “Fool” above the grave of every man who died for its independence.