18th October, 1881.
TO THE IRISH PEOPLE.
FELLOW-COUNTRYMEN – The hour has come to test whether the great organisation built up during years of patient labour and sacrifice, and consecrated by the allegiance of the whole Irish race the world over, is to disappear at the summons of a brutal tyranny. The crisis with which we are face to face with is not of our making. It has been deliberately forced upon the country, while the Land Act is as yet untested, in order to strike down the only power which might have extorted any solid benefits for the tenant-farmers of Ireland from that Act, and to leave them once more helplessly at the mercy of a law invented to save landlordism, and administered by landlord minions.
The Executive of the Irish National Land League, acting in the spirit of the resolution of the National Convention – the most freely elected representative body ever assembled in Ireland – was advancing steadily in the work of testing how far the administration of the Land Act might be trusted to eradicate from the rents of the Irish tenant-farmers the entire value of their own improvements, and to reduce these rents to such a figure as should for ever place our country beyond the peril of periodical famine. At the same time they took measures to secure, in the event of the Land Act proving to be a mere paltry mitigation of the horrors of landlordism, in order to fasten it the more securely on the necks of the people, that the tenant farmers should not be delivered blindfolded into the hands of hostile law courts, but should be able to fall back upon the magnificent organisation which was crushing landlordism out of existence, when Mr. Gladstone stepped in to its rescue. In either event the Irish tenant-farmers would have been in a position to exact the uttermost farthing of their just demand.
It was this attitude of perfect self-command – impregnable while there remained a shadow of respect for law, and supported with unparalleled enthusiasm by the whole Irish race, that moved the rage of the disappointed English Minister. Upon the monstrous pretext that the National Land League was forcing upon the Irish tenant-farmers an organisation which made them all-powerful, and was keeping them by intimidation from embracing an Act which offered them nothing except helplessness and uncertainty, the English Government has cast to the winds every shred of law and justice, and has plunged into an open reign of terror, in order to destroy by the foulest means an organisation which was confessedly too strong for it within the limits of its own English Constitution. Blow after blow has been struck at the Land League in the mere wantonness of brute force. In the face or provocation which has turned men’s blood to flame, the Executive of the Land League adhered calmly and steadily to the course traced out for them by the National Convention. Test cases of a varied and searching character were, with great labour, put in train for adjudication in the Land Courts. Even the arrest of our President, Mr. Charles Stuart Parnell, and the excited state of popular feeling which it evoked, did not induce the Executive to swerve in the slightest from that course; for Mr. Parnell’s arrest might have been accounted for by motives of personal malice, and his removal did not altogether derange the machinery for the preparation of the test cases which he had been at much pains to perfect. But the events which have since occurred – the seizure, or attempted seizure, of almost all the members of the Executive and of the chief officials of the League, upon wild and preposterous pretences, and the violent suppression of free speech – put it beyond any possibility of doubt that the English Government – unable to declare the Land League an illegal association, defeated in the attempt to break its unity, and afraid to abide the result of test case, watched over by a powerful popular organisation – has deliberately resolved to destroy the whole machinery of the Central League, with a view to rendering an experimental trial of the Act possible, and forcing it upon the Irish tenant-farmers on the Government’s own terms.
The brutal and arbitrary dispersion of the Central executive has so far succeeded that we are obliged to announce to our countrymen that we no longer possess the machinery for adequately presenting the test-cases in court according to the policy presented by the National Convention. Mr. Gladstone has, by a series of furious and wanton acts of despotism, driven the Irish-tenant farmers to choose between their own organisation and the mercy of his lawyers – between the power which has reduced landlordism to almost its last gasp and the power which strives with all the ferocity of despotism to restore the detestable ascendancy from which the Land League has delivered the Irish people.
One constitutional weapon now remains in the hands of the Irish National Land League. It is the strongest, the swiftest, the most irresistible of all. We hesitated to advise our fellow countrymen to employ it until the savage lawlessness of the English Government provoked a crisis in which we must either consent to see the Irish tenant-farmers disarmed of their organisation and laid once more prostrate at the feet of the landlords, and every murmur of Irish public opinion suppressed with an armed hand, or appeal to our countrymen to at once resort to the only means now left in their hands of bringing this false and brutal Government to its senses.
Fellow-countrymen, the hour to try your souls and to redeem your pledges has arrived. The Executive of the National Land League, forced to abandon the policy of testing the Land Act, feels bound to advise the tenant-farmers of Ireland from this forth to pay no rents under any circumstance to their landlords until the Government relinquishes the existing system of terrorism, and restores the constitutional rights of the people. Do not be daunted by the removal of your leaders. Your fathers abolished titles by the same method without any leaders at all, and with scarcely a shadow of the magnificent organisation that covers every portion of Ireland to-day.
Do not suffer yourselves to be intimidated by threats of military violence. It is as lawful to refuse to pay rents as it is to receive them. Against the passive resistance of an entire population, military power has no weapons. Do not be wheedled into compromise of any sort by the dread of eviction. If you only act together in the spirit to which within the last two years you have countless times solemnly pledged your vows, they can no more evict a whole nation than they can imprison them. The funds of the National Land League will be poured out unstintedly for the support of all who may endure eviction in the course of the struggle. Our exiled brothers in America may be relied upon to contribute, if necessary, as many millions of money as they have contributed thousands to starve out landlordism and bring English tyranny to its knees. You have only to show that you are not unworthy of their boundless sacrifices in your cause. No power on earth except faint-heartedness on your own part can defeat you. Landlordism is already staggering under the blows which you have dealt it, amidst the applause of the world.
One more crowning struggle for your land, your homes, your lives – a struggle in which you have all the memories of your race, all the hopes of your children, all the sacrifices of your imprisoned brothers, all your cravings for rent-enfranchised land, for happy homes, and National Freedom to inspire you – one more heroic effort to destroy landlordism at the very source and fount of its existence – and the system which was, and is, the curse of your race and of your existence will have disappeared for ever. The world is watching to see whether all your splendid hopes and noble courage will crumble away at the first threat of a cowardly tyranny. You have to choose between throwing yourself at the mercy of England and taking your stand by the organisation which has once before proved too strong for English despotism; you have to choose between all-powerful unity and impotent disorganisation; between the Land for the Landlords and the Land for the People! We cannot doubt your choice. Every tenant-farmer of Ireland is to-day the standard-bearer of the flag unfurled at Irishtown, and can bear it to a glorious victory.
Stand together in the face of the brutal and cowardly enemies of your race; pay no rents under any pretext; stand passively, firmly, fearlessly by while the armies of England may be engaged in their hopeless struggle against a spirit which their weapons cannot touch; act for yourselves if you are deprived of the counsels of those who have shown you how to act; no power of legalised violence can extort one penny from your purses against your will; if you are evicted, you shall not suffer; the landlord who evicts will be a ruined pauper; and the Government which supports him with its bayonets will learn in a single winter how powerless is armed force against the will of a united, determined, and self-reliant nation.
CHARLES STUART PARNELL, President, Kilmainham Jail,
A. J. KETTLE, Honorary Secretary, Kilmainham Jail,
MICHAEL DAVITT, Honorary Secretary, Portland Prison,
THOMAS BRENNAN, Honorary Secretary, Kilmainham Jail,
JOHN DILLON, Head Organiser, Kilmainham Jail,
THOMAS SEXTON, Head Organiser, Kilmainham Jail,
PATRICK EGAN, Treasurer, Paris.