Quoted in the report of the famous Conciliation Hall walkout in the Freeman’s Journal, 29 July, 1846.1
My Lord Mayor, I really do not know whether it is admissible that I should make some remarks upon the very long indictment which Mr. John O’Connell has exhibited against Mr. Duffy and the Nation. He has said distinctly that there must be no explanations, and that everything he has chosen to attribute to the Nation must be taken with his interpretation and not otherwise. But, my lord, I have sufficient confidence in an assembly of my countrymen to feel assured that they will hear explanations. I don’t believe that an assembly of Irishmen will howl down any man unheard.
Mr. JOHN O’CONNELL – Irishmen will never howl down any man unheard – that never has been done in this Hall – we give a fair hearing to all who have a right to be heard. Have I protested against explanations? No, but that men cannot, as members of this association, be allowed to put forward dangerous doctrines, and then attempt to make explanations which leave their declarations merely as they were.
(Some consternation in the Hall erupts as a result of cheers given to Mitchel’s speech. Hubert Maguire claimed that Thomas Devin Reilly, in particular, “commenced cheering most annoyingly and unmeaningly, although Maguire himself is told that he was “misbehaving… most grossly.” Following this interruption, Mitchel proceeds.)
My lord, I presume that I misunderstood Mr. J. O’Connell when I understood him to say there must be no explanations, and so I shall go on with what I have to say. On the day when these “moral force” resolutions, which have given rise to so much discussion, were introduced, and after we had on all sides stated our opinions on the subject, Mr. O’Connell closed the debate by fervently hoping that we were done with that subject for ever. I really did hope so too.
Nobody in this hall professes to dissent from the rules of the association, or to disown the basis on which it is founded; for the basis of this society is not by any means the ethical doctrine that force and violence, save in defence, are immoral and criminal; but it is the practical declaration that we, for our parts and for the attainment of our purposes, disclaim the use of force, having a safer and surer policy. That is the true basis of this confederacy, and if any member desires to assure himself of it, let him look to the public rules, which hang up framed and glazed in every passage of this building. To those rules we have all assented; on those rules no man would have raised any question, and on the subject of physical force, I, for one, will not go a hairsbreath beyond them.
From the speeches which were made yesterday against “Young Ireland,” and from some of those which will be assuredly made to-day, any listener would conclude that there are some Repealers who have proposed to the association that it should instantly declare war against the Queen of England, or who have at all events advised the Irish people to prepare for war – or at the very least, who have expressed doubt and distrust of the most peaceable agitation which we have met here to carry on, and intimated an opinion that Repeal will not be obtained at last without fighting for it. Of course not one of all these suppositions would be true. Of course the gentlemen who spoke yesterday, and the gentlemen who will speak to-day, know that well. They know that nobody here advocates or contemplates any change of the peaceful policy of this body.
But it is quite in vain that we have all repeatedly protested against such an assumption – it is in vain that we ask some proof of it – in vain that we now disavow it. They persist in fastening upon us an advocacy of what they call “physical force” whether we will or not. This disavowal of mine, which I make publicly now for the third time, will certainly not take out of the mouth of a single orator to-day one taunt against the “war party,” one witty saying against the blood-thirsty young gentlemen whom they choose to call “Young Ireland.” But, my lord, the discussion of this day seems to me still more needless, and unaccountable than those of yesterday, and the two last meetings. We are now debating, not about our practical policy, nor even about our abstract principle, but we are absolutely discussing the conduct of a gentleman not now a member of the society at all, who, it seems, three years ago, thought Mr. O’Connell and other speakers intimated some intention of in some undefined contingency resorting to arms to obtain the independence of Ireland or repel a hostile attack, and who candidly avows that he was at that time willing to co-operate in those warlike proceedings if great emergencies should arise. And what have we to do with all that? Neither Mr. Duffy, nor anybody else who was connected with the Nation in 1843, is now, I believe a member of the association; and even if he were, I should not much wonder, nor very heavily censure him or others at a time when the patriot orator was kindling this island from the centre to the sea with the fire of nationality, when he was pouring forth from every hill-top to myriads of excited listeners that fiery eloquence that might breathe spirit into the dullest clod of earth – eloquence that could almost create a soul under the ribs of death.
When he reminded his hearers that they were taller and stronger than Englishmen, and hinted at successive meetings that he had then and there at his disposal a force larger than the three armies of Waterloo – I cannot censure those who may have believed, in the simplicity of their hearts, that he did mean to create in the people a vague idea that they might, after all, have to fight for their liberties. It is not easy to blame a man who confesses that he, for his part, thought when Mr. O’Connell spoke of being ready to die for his country, he meant to suggest the notion of war in some shape – that when he spoke of a “battle line” he meant a line of battle and nothing else.
Indeed this impression does not seem to have been confined to Mr. Duffy. At a dinner to Mr. O’Connell, in 1843, Father Maguire is reported to have said, “Let the English government only give us six months to prepare ourselves, and then – God defend the right!” At a Repeal meeting in Castlebar, no longer ago than October last, the Rev. Mr. Hughes, in presence of O’Connell and the Archbishop of Tuam, answered for all the clergy of his diocese that they were ready, should it be put upon them, “to discharge every office from that of a general to that of a corporal or drill-sergeant, in carrying out this great and glorious object,” viz. – Repeal. I have no doubt that Father Maguire meant six months to prepare arguments and statistics. Mr. Hughes, unquestionably, when he said a general, meant a pacificator, and contemplated only constitutional corporals and moral drill-sergeants.
(John O’Connell rises to order to object to Mitchel allegedly “attacking Catholic priests” by Mitchel’s insinuation that the priests in question were implicitly promoting physical force. Mitchel attempts to continue, but consternation once again erupts in the Hall. Thomas Steele, a supporter of the Resolutions, nonetheless interjects by stating Mitchel has a right to speak like everyone else. With order eventually restored by a stern warning for the parties to cease disrupting the meeting from the Chairman, Mitchel continues.)
I am glad, I say, my lord mayor that the honourable member for Kilkenny has given me the opportunity of explaining or withdrawing my intention of insulting the Catholic clergymen.
I meant no sneer or disrespect to those clergymen. I cited the words only to shew that speakers at that period did sometimes use language liable to a warlike interpretation, and that it was not very strange if an impression prevailed, as I know it did, that the association might possibly, some time or other, become an army, wardens become officers, and pacificators turn out belligerents.
I shall now turn to the charges against Mr. Duffy and the Nation – and I may premise that I am in no way bound to defend the Nation, or anything that it said or thought at that period. However I shall offer a few observations on those charges, as Mr. Duffy cannot personally defend himself. Mr. O’Connell charges the Nation with calling the monster meetings of 1843 the vulgar gatherings of faction. Why the words of Mr. Duffy are that those meetings had a meaning beyond the vulgar gatherings of faction – in fact, that they were not the vulgar gatherings of faction. He says, to America and France those meetings had a meaning beyond the vulgar gatherings of faction, and that to “us,” to him, also, they had such a meaning.
Again the honourable member for Kilkenny speaks of Mr. Duffy’s allusion to M. Ledru Rollin and the offers of assistance which he notoriously made to O’Connell, and seems to rest upon it an assumption that the writers of the Nation were at that period in communication privately with Frenchmen to procure military aid? Is this fair? Mr. Duffy himself has explained that he alluded to the public notorious transaction and nothing else – to the offers which we all know were made to O’Connell, and by him promptly rejected.
But then the Nation says such offers came not merely through Ledru Rollin but “through many a surer source.” What source was this? Why, as I understand it, Mr. Duffy meant the French press. Everybody who read French papers in ’43 knows that a strong sympathy was expressed in them for our movement here, and especially in the National, if your lordship recollects, there was not only strong sympathy but a habitual assumption that the movement was, or would eventually be, a military one. Now that I think is the fair construction of Mr. Duffy’s phrase, “many a surer source” – that is the construction he gives it himself, and I think common candour would accept his own construction unless at absolute variance with his words.
On the subject of the probability which existed in 1843 that the people of Ireland might actually be compelled to rely on force I may read what Mr. John O’Connell himself said yesterday. It seems he also thought it likely, and is ready to define the very case in which it ought to have been resorted to. Here are his words: –
“I will tell you the case in which we could consider physical force advisable – not only inevitable, but advisable, for I don’t hesitate to say advisable. The same case as in 1843 – the same as was alluded to by my father when he uttered the Mallow defiance and the Lismore declaration, and when he mentioned at Mullaghmast, in parliament, and in the press (for the government then had a press, though it turned against them afterwards). They threatened coercive measures, attacks upon our liberties. Now, if, after the state prosecution, the association was put down, as they said would be done, the collection of the Repeal rent put a stop to, and public meetings prevented – if, as my father said, the constitution was taken from under our feet, and that we had no resource but to fall into the abyss of violence and physical force, we should only oppose force to force.
So long as a rag of the constitution held together, and a plank of the constitution remained our feet, we would avoid an appeal to arms; but the moment the safeguards of the constitution were taken from us, and that we were attacked, we would grasp the sword, and throw ourselves into the midst of our opponents.”
So it appears that others as well as Mr. Duffy had an idea that we might have come to fighting in ’43.
Mr O’Connell also alluded to that article in the Nation commonly called the Railway article. Mr. Duffy is really in a hard situation. He is scarcely acquitted in the Court of Queen’s Bench until he is had up before the Lord Mayor to answer the same charge. I really wish Mr. Holmes were here to defend him.
But as he is not here I may say this. If Mr. O’Connell would take the trouble of reading that article he would perceive that it was written solely on the supposition that military coercion was to be resorted to and that the writer of it never thought of instructing people to tear up railways, save in case of a desperate defensive war. He says indeed the jury disagreed, so that he cannot pronounce Mr. Duffy guilty for that article; let him not forget that in the same Court of Queen’s Bench a jury unanimously convicted him and his father of sedition and conspiracy, yet instead of pronouncing him guilty on that account, I at once pronounce him innocent.
I will not follow Mr. O’Connell in his remarks on the affidavit made by the Repeal traversers, to the effect that they were not guilty of the crime imputed to them. That crime was conspiracy to excite civil war, &c. Now it is plain that Mr. Duffy could safely swear he never entered into any conspiracy with (for instance) the hon. member for Kilkenny to excite civil war; but I shall dwell no longer on that point – it is quite unnecessary.
Mr. O’Connell, however, has occupied a great deal of time reading passages from his father’s speeches in ’43 to prove, what everybody admits, that Mr. O’Connell did not at that time, contemplate arms or physical force as the means of repealing the Union. What is the use of proving this? Mr. Duffy himself admits that if three years ago he even surmised differently he has altogether changed his mind – that it was a delusion – that he has thoroughly awakened from it, and is sorry he ever entertained it. There can be no need to prove what we all admit.
We all know that O’Connell did not then, does not now, contemplate any other than peaceful means to attain the independence of Ireland.
Well, it remains to notice the singular accusation that the Nation has quoted a saying of Danton. I shall read the passage, and you will see what force there is in this charge: –
“‘Wonderful,’ quoth Bacon, ‘is the case of boldness in civil business. What first? Boldness. What second and third? Boldness!’
‘What needs there to conquer?’, shouted Danton, ‘audacity, still audacity, and always audacity!”
The saying was originally Lord Bacon’s – there is no objection to the Nation quoting it from him – but when the very same words are quoted from Danton (who himself quoted them from Lord Bacon), it is made matter of accusation. The bare mention of Danton’s name, it seems, is not to be endured.
I shall not go through any more of these charges, but shall only add that in the year 1843, when all these dangerous articles were published, the gentleman who was the principal contributor to the Nation was one whose name has not been hitherto mentioned in this hall without respect and applause. I mention his name now with the deepest reverence and grief – the name of Thomas Davis.
I think the recollection of that man and his services might induce a more charitable construction of the policy he adopted and approved of, especially when the survivors of those who conducted the Nation in ’43 avow so marked a change in their policy.
Now, surely, Sir, we have had enough of this physical force argument. I fear that to prolong it would only subject our proceedings to ridicule. We shall appear as anxiously occupied in guarding ourselves from every possible misconstruction and conceivable danger on all sides, as to leave little leisure for doing the work that we have undertaken to do. This association once acknowledged a higher mission than merely to take care of itself; and if it were to become a mere valetudinarian society, constantly or mostly employed in preserving its own nervous existence, it would be very unlikely to effect its great task. This unfortunate discussion, too, is especially absurd, because it is plain to all the world that the real source of all our dissensions in this hall is not physical force, nor any apprehension of such. That there are two parties here is to some extent unhappily true, but that is not their main point of difference, and nobody in his senses believes it is. There must be no mistake about this. There are certain members, my lord, who have within the last few weeks been urging a more determined opposition than others to the new Whig government, who have been censured for their violent aversion to any connexion, active or passive, with an English faction – who have sought to keep the national tone as high, and the flag of Repeal flying as boldly since the secession of Lord John Russell to power as before.
Those men have loudly demanded that Whig officials should not be permitted to represent Repealers – they believe that the people of this island want national independence, and are determined to have it, and nothing short of it. They believe that any ameliorations that may come from England will come grudgingly and by compulsion, and at best will be trifling and superficial; and they are unwilling that the Irish nation should be allowed to fix their minds upon such paltry reforms as they are like to obtain, and attach themselves once more to an English party. They are unwilling that Ireland should for one moment seem to acquiesce in the monstrous usurpation by which a foreign people assumes to govern it.
For holding these opinions strongly, and strongly expressing them, they have met with a good deal of ridicule and abuse in this hall. They have been charged – a monstrous accusation – with being “young gentlemen;” and week after week have been drawn into loud argument in their own defence, and then accused of “dissension.”
Now, I apprehend it is to these real and substantial grounds of difference that the public will look for the true origin of the dissensions, and not to the chimers of “physical force,” and the public will be perfectly right. Nobody is in the least afraid of physical force, but there are some of us mortally afraid of Whiggery. I will not say that the new resolutions about abhorring physical force – resolutions going beyond what was ever adopted by the association before, even in dangerous times; I will not say these new resolutions were framed for the purpose of provoking opposition from men whose opinions were notoriously opposed to them; but I say it is a remarkable fact, that the very “young gentlemen” who have been giving so much trouble by their anti-Whig ideas, are precisely the same who thought it their duty to protest against those now unheard of Quakerly resolutions.
And it is another remarkable fact that the original rules of the association, the original basis of it, wherein we all agree, should suddenly at this juncture be found insufficient; and that now, now when all is peace and conciliation, when corruption, not oppression or violence, is the thing to be guarded against, it should appear necessary to propound and require us all to subscribe to a more stringent and absolute condemnation of war and bloodshed than ever before were thought of.
MR. STEELE. – We solemnly deny it. We solemnly deny that the resolutions are more stringent now than they were before.
All I can say is, that I must draw a distinction between the well-known old rules of the association and the new resolutions. I concur in the old rules – I stand upon the old rules; but I do not concur in the new resolutions. My lord, I repeat the real complaint against us is that we cannot endure any tampering with these Whigs with their paltry boons and shabby conciliations, and treacherous “open questions.”
(Cries of name, name.)
I have made no charge against anyone, and I shall not name.
JOHN O’CONNELL. – Before Mr. Mitchel proceeds I call on him to name. He has made a serious imputation upon somebody or other that they are for tampering with the Whigs – a charge, in fact, of committing treason against the country. He ought to name the person he accuses.
I will explain what I mean by tampering with the Whigs; I will say at once that I mean the system which I have heard advocated in this hall, of keeping Repeal an “open question” with the Whigs, and on this subject I must refer to what Mr. John O’Connell said yesterday. He taunted gentlemen with inconsistency for blaming Lord Ebrington’s proscription of Repealers, and now again blaming Lord John Russell because he leaves Repeal an open question. Now, my lord, I do blame Lord Ebrington, that when he purported to be governing this country on a principle of equality he proscribed any section of the people on account of their political opinion; but I do not blame Lord John Russell. He is perfectly right. I blame not him, but the Repealers, for making it an open question. Let it be an open question with the Whigs if you like; with us it ought to be very close, indeed.
I blame not the ministry for offering places – but I do blame the Repealer who accepts one. It is their principle that the country may be governed under the present system, and it is their duty to act accordingly, dealing impartially with all classes of the people; but then it is our aim to prevent their governing the country at all. It is our business to make that government not only a difficulty, but an impossibility to them; and therefore in my opinion no Repealer ought to give them aid in any official capacity.
In short, I do not understand this system of an open question, except as a kind of compact by which Repealers, still calling themselves by that name, may be admitted to situations and places under government; and I do not see how active agitation to throw off a foreign government is compatible with holding comfortable places under that foreign government.
Do you think the men who have been begging one day at the gate of an English minister will come down here the next day to help you to get rid of English ministers altogether?
If some of the legal gentlemen now in this box accept commissionerships and assistant-barristerships from Lord John Russell, will they be so eloquent afterwards in this hall, denouncing English tyranny and English rapacity? For me, I entered this association with the strong conviction that it was to be made, an instrument for wresting the government of Ireland out of the hands of Englishmen, whether Whig or Tory, and not a coadjutor of any of them perpetuating the provincial degradation of my country.
To be sure it is now intimated to me and others pretty broadly that we can leave this association. Truly we have that alternative; but for my own part, I am not yet willing to adopt it, and I will tell you why. If I consulted my own ease and convenience I should certainly absent myself from these meetings. I derive no benefit, and latterly but little pleasure from my attendance. I receive none of your money my friends.
It would be no personal sacrifice to me to wash my hands of the affair altogether. But I entered it with a serious determination to do what in me lay, to help what I fondly believed might become a great national movement for the liberation of Ireland; and a man who is in earnest in anything he sets about, is not easily driven from his purpose by discouragement or disgust. Besides (and I hope it will not be deemed presumptuous to says so), I am one of the Saxon Irishmen of the North.
And you want that race of Irishmen in your ranks more than any others; you cannot well afford to drive even one away from you, however humble and uninfluential. And let me tell you, friends, this is our country as well as yours.
You need not expect to free it from the mighty power of England by yourselves – you are not able to do it. Drive the Ulster Protestants away from your movement by needless tests, and you perpetuate the degradation both of yourselves and them. Keep them at a distance from you – make yourselves subservient to the old and well-known English policy of ruling Ireland always by one party or the other – and England will keep her heel upon both your necks for ever.
Slaves, and sons of slaves, you will perpetuate nothing but slavery and shame from generation to generation. Must it indeed be so? I am unwilling to leave this great confederacy until I shall see how you will answer that question, if it be determined upon to drive me and my friends out, of course we must retire. None of us dreams of carrying on a policy opposed to O’Connell in what I will call his own association; but, if we are so forced to retire – if you shall decide that we may no longer act in this association, holding our own honest opinions on all matters collateral; bound to nothing but to work for Repeal – if you so decide, I, for one, shall deeply regret it, but it will not prevent me from still labouring, in whatever field may still remain upon to me, for the liberty and welfare of my native land.
1 EDITOR’S NOTE – Some of the interruptions have been removed or summarized so as to not ruin the flow of the speech.