From The Citizen, April 1, 1854.

I believe it is safe enough to assume that, in the war now imminent, England being at one side and Russia at another, all your sympathies, my countrymen, are with Russia.

The sole reason and ground of this, of course, that Russia is the enemy of England.

If, in the course of the war, the eagles of Austria and Prussia shall happen to range themselves against the Red Cross of England, I presume that from ten thousand Irish firesides will rise up prayers and blessings for the eagles of Austria and Prussia.

If the present treacherous and unnatural league between France and England should, happily, burst asunder on some early day – it is altogether a matter of course that thousands of our countrymen will be eagerly soliciting service in the French armies, that so they may have a chance of dealing England, sometime and anywhere, a mortal blow.

This state of feeling in Irishmen may as well be avowed and understood. I should like to see the Irishman who is enough of an idiot and of a beast to believe that Ireland has any interest at all in the present confusions of Europe; save in so far as they may bring about the destruction of our ancient foe – and may bless us with the chance of bearing a hand in that destruction.

But if any of you be so foolish as to suppose England, in commencing this war, has any regard to right or justice, any friendship for Turkey, or any sympathy with the manifestly righteous cause of Turkey, let him attend to some of the considerations here following:

First. There is no such thing in all history, since history began, as one nation undertaking a war for the honour or benefit of another nation. The interest of England in preventing Constantinople from falling into the hands of Russia, or any other first-rate power, is expressed in the well-known words of Lord Chatterton – “that the maintenance of the Ottoman Empire is a question of life and death to England.” And it is for that interest in the first place that she has armed now.

Second. England is the same power that, thirty years ago, contrived a pretext for burning and destroying, in time of peace, the Turkish fleet in the harbour of Navarino, which has had the effect of leaving Russia in full possession of the Black Sea ever since. So that you see if England be Turkey’s friend, it would be better for Turkey to have England for an enemy.

Third. But England has another powerful interest in arming against Russia – it is to prevent an European war, to prevent the consequent uprising of the crushed nationalities of the Continent, and, Irishmen, especially your nationality, which is the most heavily crushed of all. With the despotisms of Europe the British aristocracy stands or falls, lives, or else dies and goes to perdition. And it can hardly be needful to remind you, that during the European struggle against Napoleon I it was the English government that paid the monarchs of Europe to fight for their own capitals and crowns – bribed them with borrowed money, on which you pay the interest yet out of every meal you eat, out of every rag you wear. Yes, not an Austrian cuirassier fell on the field of Ulm or Wagram, but you are this moment paying interest on the price of his breastplate and sabre; – no bearded yager, not a whiskered pandour, or a fierce hussar, of all who trooped to Jena, or Austerlitz, like sheep (or rather like goats) to the slaughter, – but every hair in the creature’s beard is dear to you as a thread of finest gold. All this, to uphold “legitimate sovereignty” – to bring about the Vienna treaty – to fling Italy under the heels of her paltry tyrants, – to ensure the hopeless abolition of Poland – to impose the brood of Bourbons upon France and Spain – in short, to bind down all Europe on that bed of pain and shame where she has since been enjoying rest and “peace,” with full five million bayonets at her throat. To hold her bound there still is, I repeat it, the second, or, indeed, the first and main motive of Britain’s activity now.

Fourth. England’s pretext that she is bound by treaties to maintain the independence of Turkey, is a falsehood of course. She was bound by treaty to maintain the dominion of Holland over Belgium, to resist the swallowing up of Cracow by Russia, to respect the neutrality of Denmark in 1807. I need not refer to England’s deliberate breach of the treaty of Amiens – still less to her atrocious breach of the treaty of Limerick. What I want to know is, what treaty has she ever kept. Once more I will cite against her the sentence pronounced by her greatest statesman (whom, as usual, Ireland gave her), Edmund Burke. It is a description of the policy of the English in India:

“I engage myself to make good these three positions. First, I say that from Mount Imaus, where it touches in the latitude of twenty-nine, to Cape Comorin, in the latitude of eight, there is not a single prince, state, or potentate, great or small, in India, with whom they have come into contact, whom they have not sold. I say sold, though sometimes they have not been able to deliver according to their bargain. Secondly, I say that there is not a single treaty they have ever made, which they have not broken. Thirdly, I say that there is not a single prince or state who ever put any trust in the Company, who is not utterly ruined; and that none are in any degree secure or flourishing, but in the exact proportion to their settled distrust and irreconcilable enmity to this nation.”[1]

Words that burn! words that England would erase, if she could, from the writings of her greatest statesman, at the cost of say half a quarter’s income tax – for they conflict with and sadly discredit the system of philanthropic cant according to which “we have conquered India in our own defence.”

Fifth. You are to observe that neither England nor France has declared any war against Russia. I do not believe they will declare war – and if a war take place, Russia will declare and make it first. The English and French governments have armed and sent forth their troops and ships, not against Russia, but provisionally against each other – each being apprehensive that the other will get hold of Constantinople. And those troops and ships are to be employed in compelling the Turks to make peace on ignominious terms, and in gaining the control of the Turkish empire under pretext of securing the rights of Christians. The intention of the Western Powers, in short, is that Constantinople and its master shall be swallowed, not by the East of Europe, but by the West. Such and so chivalrous allies has the predestined Turk!

Sixth. Readers of English books and newspapers have always been taught to regard the Russians as a nation of abject serfs, groaning under despotic rule. Now it cannot fail to occur to you that these Russians must be in a bad condition, indeed, if they are worse off than you – under your beautiful constitutional government which is the envy of surrounding nations. But the truth is, Russia is now, in her social and political condition, very much as England was when England was indeed a great nation, under her Plantagenets and her Tudors, when she created and won all that true national greatness, on the mere credit of which she has been living ever since. Remember, too, that Russia is ruled by a Russian government, and for the Russian people. No stranger sits on her judgment seats, no stranger watches at her gates. Herein, my countrymen, how deeply you ought to envy the Russians! The peasants of Russia are, it is true, annexed to, and inseparable from, the land they till. If the Irish peasantry had been so annexed for the last six years, they had lived and not died. In 1847, when famine threatened all Europe, the Russian government promptly prohibited the export of rye, which is the common food of its people – where was the government that would do as much for you? It was because our poor countrymen belonged to nobody; because nobody had any interest in keeping them alive; because the foreign nation that holds military occupation of their country desired their destruction – that they were swept from the face of the land, huddled into poor-houses, starved to death by myriads and millions, or hunted from their own island to the four winds. Oh! believe me, there is not a Russian serf but has cause to pity and despise you.

It is worth while, just now, to ponder all these matters. When British newspapers and organs of British opinion everywhere, even in America, are using all efforts to puff “John Bull,” and get up the enthusiasm of free men in his favour, it is expedient that the Irish should bear constantly in mind the true nature of this Bull, and the real principles and motive of the war he is now engaging in, or pretending to engage in.

It might surprise us indeed, to find American newspapers praising and flattering England; for England is the sole enemy America has, or ever had. Americans seem to forget how grand and august a champion of liberty that Power was, which paid Indians for the scalps of their fathers and mothers, and raised negroes in insurrection against their masters; when her ships of war landed parties to burn peaceful villages, and Admirals, blazing in the decorations of Grand Cross and Bath and Garter, led on their gallant tars to the plunder of hen-roosts on the Chesapeake.

Yes; America may forget, for she scourged the Crossed and Gartered pirates; but we, my countrymen cannot afford to forget what they have done to us and to our country just yet. America drives a prosperous trade with England now, and naturally looks on her wealthy customers with some indulgence; but Ireland’s trade with her is death and ruin.

Enough. It is not without a definite object I ask a hearing, that I may remind you of these things now. I desire to impress upon all my countrymen, first, that it is base and suicidal to enter the British Army. – And next, that the present population of the civilized world opens, or is likely to open a chance for expatriated Irishmen, to help at least in doing justice and execution upon their enemy; so that men in Ireland of a fighting age and temper, may find more congenial work near home than fighting with Russians on the Danube.

Rumours are current amongst gossiping newspapers new in New York, pointing to some definite and organized plan now actually on foot in America, for giving practical expression to this yearning and passionate longing for a fair and feasible enterprise in the cause of freedom and honour. They even indicate the precise design – an invasion of Canada by Irishmen from the United States. Of course our countrymen will know how much confidence is to be placed in all this. And they will ask no more at present than to be assured that certain Irishmen in New York, men who have the nearest and dearest interest in the Cause, have resolved, if a fair occasion arise, to avail themselves of it, and to ask a sufficient number of you to help them.

You will not be in a position to help, if you are in Turkey, wearing the red coats of British soldiers.

It is right to mention that those who cherish this design know what the laws of the United States are in this matter – that they are bound by duty and affection to obey these laws – and that they contemplate nothing which will violate them, or in any way compromise the peaceful relations of this country with other powers.

The possible occasions that may arise are numerous. Some of them make the heart bound to think of. Spain, Cuba, and the Black Warrior – Napoleon, and the secret hope of vengeance for St. Helena that he cherishes in his occult soul. – Another French revolution – and a Provincial Government with no mouthing Lamartine at its head – possibilities are endless, and Time and Chance wait upon all men.

JOHN MITCHEL.
New York, 29th March, 1854.

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[1] Speech on Mr. Fox’s East India Bill.