From The Nation, March 7, 1846.
Is England henceforth to rule Ireland by the laws or by the bayonet? This is a question which will soon press for an answer; and we only anticipate events in answering it here, and now – By neither.
Ireland hates English law, is disaffected towards English government, suspects, abhors the legislature which enacts those laws, the officers who administer them, and the military garrison which alone maintains them. Every day makes this breach wider – it will not close, and it ought not.
Then comes the other, the last alternative – the bayonet; and undoubtedly by a strong military occupation and stringent insurrection acts, a kind of quasi government may be carried on here for a time, provided a sufficient number of troops can be spared from the Eastern wars now raging, and the Western wars that threaten to break out. Gaols and halters, artillery and hangmen, may “pacificate” for a little while – yet is the end coming.
There is a newspaper published in London called the Examiner, one of their “Liberal” papers (to use a word by which one of the English factions designates itself). The number of that paper published on Saturday last contains an article remonstrating with their Government against the new Coercion Bill which it has proposed; and, after showing the hardship of transporting a farmer for overstaying sunset at his market, or for taking refuge in a public-house at nightfall lest he be found straying, this English journalist thus continues: –
“Can any one suppose a mode of rendering English rule more obnoxious, not merely to the lower, but to the middle class of Irish?”
The humane intercessor of the Examiner is plainly unconscious of the cool insolence of this language. The man means well: he says to his Government, “Let us not trample these poor devils of Irish altogether down into the earth – let our yoke be somewhat easier, our burden only a little lighter upon them – let us not break utterly the bruised reed – ‘tis cruel, unmanly – all the world will cry shame upon us.” His idea is one of contemptuous compassion: his reasoning is the preamble of “Martin’s Act” – whereas it is expedient that the inferior animals should not be wantonly tortured.
We desire to know whether it is tolerable that we should remain subject to a country in which our very friends and advocates can use an argument like this. Even while they plead for us, they quietly take for granted the impossibility of a union upon equal terms between the two countries – coolly assume that the one is, and must remain, under the other – that the problem to be solved is not how Ireland is to be made a partaker in what they call their “British Constitution,” but how “English rule” is to be made endurable to her.
This very unconsciousness of the enormity involved in such an assumption, makes it the more enormous. If we found it in the columns of the Times, or Chronicle, or Herald, we should interpret it as the studied taunt of an enemy. Here it betrays a settled, deep-seated, and most heartfelt contempt.
Be it so. They have reason to despise us. For ages our antipathy to this same “English rule” has been apparent – our writhing under it is continual and convulsive; yet here we are with the yoke about our necks to this day, galling and stinging as ever. We loathe their dominion, and we submit to it. Outrage is followed by insult, and insult by robbery and bloodshed and we – why, we
“Must, like a whore, unpack our heart with words,
And fall a-cursing!”
If we pursue this theme, we may say that which we ought not to say, at least for the present. But let us calmly examine what chance England has of perpetuating her rule here by the means which she appears likely to employ.
The Irish people, always half starved, are expecting absolute Famine day by day; they know that they are doomed to months of a weed-diet next summer – that “hungry Ruin has them in the wind” – and they ascribe it, unanimously, not so much to the wrath of Heaven as to the greedy and cruel policy of England. Be it right or wrong, such is their feeling. They believe that the seasons as they roll are but ministers of English rapacity – that their starving children cannot sit down to their scanty meal but they see the harpy-claw of England in their dish. They behold their own wretched food melting in rottenness off the face of the earth; and they see heavy-laden ships, freighted with the yellow corn their own hands have sown and reaped, spreading all sail for England: they see it, and with every grain of that corn goes a heavy curse.
Here is one phase of Irish feeling that bodes ill for “English Rule.”
Again – the people believe, no matter whether truly or falsely, that if they should escape the Hunger and the Fever, their lives are not safe from judges and juries. They do not look upon the law of the land as a terror to evil-doers and a praise to those who do well – they scowl on it as an engine of foreign rule, ill-omened harbingers of doom: they have a belief, universal throughout all Ireland, that while “the judges” are in any county the sun never shines there. In short, Ireland is disaffected, and every year, every day, adds to that disaffection and to the causes of it. We see no chance of the universal discontent being mitigated or changed; on the contrary, it grows fiercer and more reckless every day. We dislike the laws, we distrust the law-makers; we pray to Heaven to guard us from the law administrators.
But there is more yet. Hunger and hardship lead to crime – crime trifling in amount considering the desperate provocation, murders far less frightful than the terrible scenes of blood – those murders most foul, base, and unnatural, that we read of in the English papers; but still there is crime, and for the gnawing misery and oppression which produce that crime, Irishmen expect no relief from “English Rule.” They count English Government as a potent ally of tyrannical landlords; to them, English Government personifies itself in the dragoons who ride them down – in the adverse jury-box – in the detecting, hard-swearing policeman. The plagues of their country, and enemies of their lives, they believe to be jails, juries, and policemen; and behold! those who deal out English Rule from the Imperial Parliament promise them more jails, more juries, more trials, and military patrols and detectives without number. We have put the case strongly, but not more strongly than the state of this country warrants. What is to be the issue of it we cannot well foresee; but of one thing we are very sure – Ireland will never, under any circumstance, be otherwise than disaffected towards “English Rule;” paltry “boons” will not conciliate this people to it – no forest of bayonets will make them love it – no “concessions” that a British Minister would dare to propose will alter the feeling in the least, and coercion will only make it more bitter and deadly. The Irish people are tame and patient enough – too tame and too patient; but an Insurrection Act is not the way to “pacificate” them – it cannot pacificate them – it will not – it ought not – and, (we speak plainly,) it shall not!