(From the “United Irishman” of May 20, 1848)
I SUPPOSE, my friends, you are aware that the English Parliament, the same body which has passed so many cheap and handy “Ejectment Acts,” and which has now four times attempted to cheat you out of your Tenant-right – that these same Parliament-men have, within three weeks, passed one of their “Acts,” as they call them, creating a new “crime:” for these fellows, let me tell you, have always taken it upon them to create “crimes” whenever they liked, and, I suppose, virtues also, – as well as to establish churches and enact true religions.
At one time they made it a heinous crime to celebrate Mass, which made “felons” of the Catholics, – and another crime, not to go to church, which nailed the Dissenters. And you know it is a Parliament “crime” at present for a man to shoot the wild birds that grow fat upon his own corn stocks, without the leave or “license” of them, the Parliament-men.
And, then, this Parliament and Government have been so long, unfortunately, endured, by reason of the miserable dissensions of the people, – have been so long suffered to carry on a system of successful plunder, and have secured to themselves so fast a revenue out of the sweat and blood of toiling men, that they can pay plenty of solemn judges, ferocious military gentlemen, upper and under clergymen, detectives, hangmen, and officers of State; whose business is in their several departments to uphold the entire Government system, and make believe that it is a “glorious constitution” – and so it has come to pass that many are deceived into supposing Parliament crimes to be real crimes – the “Government” to be an institution for securing life and property, and administering justice between man and man, – “Acts of Parliament” to be real Laws, – the preaching stipendiaries to be, in some sort, ministers of religion, – and resistance, or “sedition” against any part of the horrid machinery, to be nothing less than a sin.
A very sad state of society, indeed. And we – that is, you and other farmers, labourers and industrious persons, who earn a livelihood, and do not live upon other people’s earnings – are much to blame for having suffered it so long.
But, leaving for the present this part of the subject, I desire to make you think very steadfastly for a minute on one fact: the people called “Government,” by help of these Parliament-men, have still the power of creating crimes, and, in the exercise of that power, they have lately created a very extraordinary “crime” indeed.
They have observed that certain men in Ireland, wearied out and exasperated past endurance at the long oppression and unnatural submission and patience of this noble country, under such a system of fraud and blood, did begin at length to say to their countrymen that they should put an end to it altogether, by open and armed resistance; and to show them how similar systems of blood and fraud had been overthrown in other countries.
And the greedy gang called “Government,” perceiving that the people were hearkening to such counsel, and were getting their arms and weapons to put it in practice, were a good deal frightened, as well they might be. So in a great hurry they asked their Parliament-men to read over a short paper three times, in two separate Houses (such is the form), and their Queen to sign the same; and then immediately it was proclaimed that a new “crime” was created.
Yes, indeed, after the reading of that short paper, it was “felony” for anyone to write and print, or openly and advisedly to say (what is, however, GOD’s truth), that the said “Government” is a Government of fraud and blood, and ought to be overthrown by force of arms, or otherwise; and that no people on earth would have endured the like half so long as the Irish people.
We may think this, we may know it, but if we say it, there is crime.” And forthwith all the solemn judges, fierce military gentlemen, upper and under clergymen, detectives, hangmen, and officers of State are to try and sentence, to cut and stab, to pursue and lock up, to preach against and consign to damnation all who commit this new “crime,” as if it were, indeed, a real crime in the eyes of God or man.
Now, to do this thing which the Parliament-men have made into a crime, and christened “felony,” – to speak the very God’s truth, which they cannot bear to hear, to speak and preach it publicly, emphatically, effectively, and with millions for an audience, has been to me from my early years, a dearly-cherished ambition.
To demonstrate in some conspicuous manner before all the people the utter falsity, futility, and weakness of the whole British Parliamentary system of government in Ireland; on how very unreal a basis it stood, and how it only needed a charm – some words boldly and truly spoken, some deeds boldly and openly done, and the whole structure, apparently so staunch and mighty, with its towers, and wings, and pinnacles, and dungeons, all of diabolic masonry, would vanish instantly, and leave scarce a smell of brimstone, to do this, or in any efficient manner help to do it, seemed to me precisely the most excellent, beneficent, religious and glorious deed that Irishmen in this age of the world could do. And that it could be done I had no doubt; – that the thing was unreal, was a huge lie, and product of diabolic art, I knew well.
What! A system by which a beautiful and fertile island, producing noble and superabundant harvests year after year, became gradually poorer and poorer – was reduced to beg its bread – reduced at length to utter starvation; and, finally, to cannibalism – a system under which millions of men, who toiled their lives through from morning to night, found at length they had no rights, but a right to public alms, and had realised, with all their toiling, nothing but the chance of a relief-ticket – a state of society wherein the tillers of the soil, the real masters and lords thereof, were continually found (with hat, or remnant of hat, in hand) beseeching, flattering, and bribing a few red-faced, thick-headed, and insolent individuals for leave to labour, and to live by their labour on Irish ground, – under the delusion, as it seemed, that those thick-headed individuals, and not they themselves, were the real masters and lords – a system of dealing whereby the countless shiploads of corn and other food for man were sent away out of the island, and money received in exchange, which money was then immediately sent out also after the commodities, and for result of the whole transaction many rent receipts were netted, – the money being fairy-money, and having turned into leaves – a system of society, whereby the more wealth was produced the less was used by its producers, and the more skilfully, rapidly, and entirely it was carried out of the reach of those producers, the more commerce, enlightenment, and civilisation there was said to be.
Manifestly this was all one huge and horrible cheat, and cried aloud to be exposed, punished, and extinguished amidst the wrath and scorn of mankind.
There was, of course, but one way to do this needful business, and it was obvious enough, too: but for a long time I could not see it. Knowing that British dominion was the power which maintained the imposture here, I long thought that if only all “ranks and classes,” as the phrase runs, could be banded together for the Repeal of the Union, the wrong and injustice would disappear; “Irish noblemen and gentlemen” – the thick-headed individuals before mentioned – would straightaway treat their tenants like Christian men, and not like wild beasts, and the tillers of the soil would suddenly acquire a perpetuity in their lands, and sitting, every man of them, under his own vine and fig-tree, would consume the fruits of the earth in peace, with none to make them afraid.
It was an agreeable delusion, and the fabulous glories of “Eighty-Two” shed a glow over it for a while. But it was a dream: “Irish noblemen and gentlemen” no longer acknowledge Ireland for their country – they are “Britons;” their education, their feelings, and what is more important to them, their interests, are all British.
British “laws” eject and distrain for them, British troops preserve “life and property,” and chase their surplus tenants. For them judges charge – for them hangmen strangle. Without British government they are nothing; and they have instinct enough (albeit thick-headed) to perceive that Irish landlordism has grown so rotten and hideous a thing, that only its strict alliance, offensive and defensive, with British oligarchy saves it from going down to sudden perdition.
So soon as this became clear to my mind, I, for one, desisted from the vain attempt at seducing the English landlord garrison in Ireland to fraternise with Irishmen, and turned upon the garrison itself. I determined to try how many men in Ireland would help me to lay the axe to the root of this rotten and hideous Irish landlordism; that we might see how much would come down along with it.
Well, then, I established this newspaper, “THE UNITED IRISHMAN;” and the programme of it, which appeared about four months ago, was universally reputed one of the most seditious, felonious, treasonable, and burglarious productions that ever appalled society.
And so it was; for, do you know what I said in it? – Why that the life of one labouring man is exactly equal to the life of one nobleman, neither more nor less! That the property of a farmer is as sacred as that of a gentleman! That men born in Ireland have a right to live on the produce of Ireland – and even to make laws for Ireland! That no good thing could come from the English Parliament or the English Government! That all men ought to possess Arms, and know how to use them! – These were doctrines to propound to a civilized nation!
At once a cry of virtuous horror arose from all the genteel places of the land. They saw the plain consequences deducible from such Jacobin premises, and were justly alarmed. “Here is a miscreant,” they said; “will no man stop him? Where is it to end? Whose life or property is safe?” The Chief Justice of the Queen’s Bench the moment he read the document said, this paper ought to be called, not “United Irishman,” but “Queen’s Bench Gazette.” For what is the use, thought he, of my Queen’s Bench, if not to check miscreants of this kind?
I knew by the outcry they raised that I had found the right road at length. By the nervous anxiety of Lord Stanley in the English House of Lords; by the tremendous abuse of the landlord-newspapers in Ireland; by the congregating of the Government troops, and the whetting of their slaughtering tools; by the formidable looks of legal officials, the bubonic solemnity of the “inner bar,” and the parrot chatter of the outer, – I knew that the monster called “Government” was collecting all his energies – that his judges were getting ready their charges, his sheriffs their good lawful men, that his preachers, hangmen and detectives were all putting themselves in readiness, in their several departments, to crush the rebel who dared to say and write down (contrary to all the statutes, and all the precedents, and all the reported cases) that a poor man’s life is as precious as a nobleman’s
So, being satisfied that I had the axe laid to the root of the right tree, I girded up my loins, and delivered blow on blow, not with any great strength or woodman-craft, but with right good will. Into British civilization and commerce, into Britain’s Crown and Law, into landlord Thuggee, and all enlightened theories of consolidated farming, I made horrid gashes, till, as I thought, the leafy top trembled, and the trunk groaned, and it became evident that if so vehement an attack continued, the tree would fall, and obscene birds no longer have shelter beneath its branches.
Then the “law” discharged its first bolt, and I was arrested, and held to bail to take two trials, one after the other, for what they call “sedition” – that is, for speaking the Truth aforesaid.
But, to the amazement of all Parliament-men and Government people, I still went on exactly as before. What I had to say was GOD’s truth, and I would say it: what I had undertaken to do was a sacred work, and I would do it. Nay, I began to call you, the Protestant democracy of the North, to my aid. I called aloud on you to come and help me to abolish the system that gave away the food you raised and the cloth you wove, to be eaten and worn by strangers.
I asked you what profit or pride you had in supporting foreign Queens and Princes out of your hard earnings. I asked you whether you liked paying high taxes in order to fit out troops and ships to disseminate British civilization in India, and diffuse over China the blessings of British “Christianity,” which turned out, when the bales were opened, to be nothing but printed cottons.
I implored you to give over your terror about the bugbear of Popery, and to join with your countrymen in taking possession of Ireland for the Irish: and you were beginning to hearken to my appeal – when Government flesh and blood could bear it no longer. Suddenly this short paper I spoke of was written out, was read three times, her most gracious “Majesty” gave it her “royal assent,” of course; and behold! It was an Act, and whoso should thereafter write, or print, or openly and advisedly speak, GOD’s truth in this matter, was to be a “felon,” and to be sent forthwith to the Antipodes, to labour there in chains for his natural life.
And, inasmuch as I still persisted in speaking, writing, printing and publishing the truth, I am now inditing to you this letter – possibly my last – in a cell of Newgate Gaol, where I await what the blessed law and my good or evil destiny may bring me. If I escape conviction for the transportable offence next week, then comes my trial in the Queen’s Bench on the following Monday; if I escape that, then my second trial in the Queen’s Bench on the following Thursday; and if I escape them all, then I suppose I must still remain in custody till the Government people, on some one of the three cases, pack a jury to their mind. For what is the use of a Queen’s Bench, or a Government, if it cannot crush the miscreant who says one Peasant’s life is equal to one Peer’s.
Now, before undergoing any of my trials – while I have still the use of pen and paper – I wish to say to you that I am more than ever convinced the way I have been taking is the true and only way to deal with the “Government,” to right the wrongs of the working-men, and to achieve liberty for our country.
Let the plain truth be acted, felony or no felony. Let Irishmen, north and south, reflect upon that maxim: – The Life of one Peasant is equal to the Life of one Peer; and follow it out to its consequences, whithersoever it may lead, be that through prisons, or anarchy, or reigns of terror, or rivers of blood; – and, above all things, remember, that no good thing can come from the English Parliament or the English Government.
For me, I abide my fate joyfully; for I know that whatever betide me, my work is nearly done. Yes; Moral Force, and “Patience and Perseverance,” are scattered to the wild winds of Heaven. The music my countrymen now love best to hear, is the rattle of arms and the ring of the rifle. As I sit here, and write in my lonely cell, I hear, just dying away, the measured tramp of ten thousand marching men – my gallant Confederates, unarmed and silent, but with hearts like bended bow, waiting till the time comes.
They have marched past my prison windows to let me know there are ten thousand fighting men in Dublin – “felons” in heart and soul.
I thank GOD for it. The game is afoot at last. The liberty of Ireland may come sooner or later, by peaceful negotiation or bloody conflict – but it is sure; and wherever between the poles I may chance to be, I will hear the crash of the downfall of the thrice-accursed “British Empire.”
Your friend and fellow-countryman,