They are in earnest – thoroughly in earnest. Know it friends and foes; know it all the world – if all the world care to know it – that portion of the Irish race who have found homes and freedom within the bosom of this Republic, are resolved to free the land of their birth. Not to talk about it, but to do it. I have not the shadow of a doubt about this now. If I ever had any doubts they have been removed by what I have witnessed during the past three days. I had the honour of being admitted, as a visitor to the first General Convention of the Fenian Brotherhood. The despatch from California designated the assembly the first Irish Congress; and it was worthy of that proud title. In order to attend it the delegates had to travel distances varying from two hundred to two thousand miles. During the three days of their deliberations the doors of the Fenian Hall were guarded by sentries with fixed bayonets, and no persons but the accredited delegates were admitted, save a few “visitors,” like myself, who were accommodated with seats on the platform behind the president’s chair. The intelligence, earnestness and capacity for business which characterised the proceedings, were truly astonishing. What a contrast to the noisy, meaningless displays to which we are accustomed in Ireland? The assembly which John O’Mahony presided over during these three days, was worth all the monster meetings and speechifying of old and young Ireland put together – including the cartloads of petitions, “National” and otherwise. I could not help remarking that the true meaning of the organization which this convention represented, was well illustrated by the number of military officials in full uniform who attended as delegates.
“The tribune’s tongue and poet’s pen
May sow the seed in slavish men;
But, ‘tis the soldier’s sword alone
Can reap the harvest when ‘tis grown.”
I do hope that the 3rd, 4th, and 5th of November, 1863, will be memorable in Irish history. I was glad to see the Convention unanimous in condemning the criminal folly of all attempts to revive “agitation” in Ireland. Mr. Martin’s letters had excited their fears upon this point; for it is but too evident that this well-meaning and really good man means, if he can, to inflict a second edition of Conciliation Hall upon his unfortunate country. From what I have seen, I really fear if the people of Ireland are so ignorant as to allow themselves to be deluded again by such humbug associations, that our countrymen on this side of the Atlantic will give up the cause in despair. It is to be hoped that their opinions on this point will have some little weight even with Mr. Martin. In their address to their countrymen at home, they say: –
“We are thoroughly convinced of the utter futility of ‘legal and constitutional’ agitation, parliamentary ‘policies,’ and all similar delusions. These things have brought more suffering upon our people than would be caused by the most protracted and devastating war. The best of them would but expose the ardent and the brave to the vengeance of local despots; and be it remembered that such sacrifices beget no noble aspirations.”
Whether Mr. Martin will or will not attach any weight to the opinions of his exiled countrymen, I am confident the Irish people are too well schooled by this time to allow themselves to be turned aside from the only course of action by which the independence of their country can be won. Mr. O’Mahony, in his opening address to the Convention, spoke rather severely of some of the “Young Ireland” leaders. I could almost wish that he was not so hard upon them. And yet who can blame him, when we considered that some of these men have done all they could to destroy the organization to which Mr. O’Mahony has devoted so much labour? Besides, he appears to think that these assaults on the Fenian Brotherhood will be repeated. But I venture to hope that he is mistaken upon this point. And yet who can tell? Mr. D’Arcy McGee told his countrymen that they were far happier under the rule of England than they would be if freed from that rule by an “invading” army of Irish-Americans! We heard a good deal, too, of the melancholy consequences which might result to us from a French invasion. So, perhaps, after all Mr. O’Mahony was right in giving expression to his opinions concerning some of these “young Ireland” leaders. By the way Mr. Martin rushed into print a year or two ago to defend this precious Mr. D’Arcy McGee from some strictures upon his conduct which appeared in a Dublin newspaper. Where was Mr. Martin or any of his colleagues when John O’Mahony was assailed in another Dublin newspaper? The Irish people have long memories, and there are some things which they are not likely to forget.
The Convention was wound up with a magnificent banquet; and the feast of reason and the flow of soul (enlivened by the popping of corks from champagne bottles) was carried into “the wee sma’ hours.”
The Convention cost, at a moderate calculation, two thousand pounds in money. But it was money well expended. I am now about bidding goodbye to all my dear friends in Chicago. I shall never forget them. Tomorrow evening, accompanied by Mr. O’Mahony, I start for New York.