It was in the month of February, 1845, that the first of the four voluminous Reports was published by the Land Tenure Commission. Sir Robert Peel was Prime Minister; Lord Stanley (afterwards Lord Derby) was Colonial Secretary. In England, the Repeal Agitation was still regarded as formidable. Twenty-six of the hundred and five Irish Members of Parliament were declared and enrolled Repealers; and these, despairing of influencing the course of Imperial legislation by attending the London Parliament, gave their attendance in “Conciliation Hall,” along with O’Connell and O’Brien, or else stayed at home. O’Brien, zealously aided by Davis and his friends in the Nation Office, and by John O’Connell, was labouring on the Committee of the Association; whose reports and pamphlets, widely circulated amongst the people, were diffusing sound information upon, the national resources of the Island, and the state of the account lying open between Ireland and England.
Mainly through the exertions of Davis, “Repeal Reading Rooms” sprang up in every town; and a Club was formed, which called itself the “Eighty-two Club,” in honour of the era of Ireland’s Independence (1782). The members of the Club attended public meetings and festivals in a dark-green uniform, adorned with gold lace; and the uniform cap resembled the forage-cap of an officer of hussars. Mr. Grey Porter, a gentleman of large property in Fermanagh, and son to the Bishop of Clogher, joined the Association; and forthwith published a pamphlet, propounding, amongst other things, that Ireland ought to have a national militia of 100,000 men.
Men’s thoughts were tending towards battle: the agitation was beginning, notwithstanding all the Head Pacificator’s labours, to assume a semi-military look; and this hardly alarmed the English more than it alarmed O’Connell. He loved not that “Eighty-two Club,” with its forage cap; but seeing he could not prevent its formation, he accepted – that is, assumed – the presidency of it; and soon took care to swamp it with his own peaceful and constitutional creatures.
Grey Porter’s pamphlets were stirring and bold: and his ideas about the militia were welcomed warmly and passionately by Davis. “Honour to Mr. Porter,” he wrote, “for having had the manliness to propose what thousands thought but spoke not.” His appeals to his fellow Protestants were strong and warm. His first pamphlet says: –
“At present the Irish Protestants have a great deal of smothered national feeling. They may be distinct from their Catholic country-men – they are equally so from the natives of England. Their psychology is national, though their politics are imperial. They have more self-control, more self-reliance, than their Catholic country-men; but who that is familiar with their minds but knows that they are full of Irish ardour, – of Irish love of whatever is dashing and splendid; and that in favourable circumstances they are just the body who, backed by the Catholic multitudes, would achieve a revolution in Ireland, whose vibrations would be felt wherever a single foundation of British empire has been laid?
It would certainly be a most magnificent consummation of Irish history, if that proud and fiery body, the Protestants of Ireland, should, inflamed by a generous nationality, marshal in the ranks of their Catholic countrymen – unfurl the standard of Orange and Green, and casting off the shackles of England, display their hereditary valour in fields that would eclipse the glories of Derry and the Boyne.”
All this talk about unfurling standards, and the like, was highly distasteful to O’Connell; and the “Head Pacificator” snuffed carnage. But O’Brien hailed with a calm smile the evident progress of the true gospel of manhood; and the Nation busied itself in pointing out and enumerating the militia force of all the countries of Europe; and telling how even the British Colonies, Canada, and the West India islands, were guarded by that indispensable kind of force. To exhibit and prove all this was easy; but all the while there was the Disarming Act; and the crime of training or drilling in Ireland was felony, punishable by transportation.
Still the enemy looked on not without uneasiness. It was to them, very evident that they held Ireland only by the tenure of O’Connell’s life: and therefore it became highly necessary to break up the organization before the Agitator’s death.
The extermination of tenantry, which was expected to follow Lord Devon’s Report, might be too slow for their purposes, though it was quite sure. The “Report” was in the mouths of all; and was precisely such as Sir Robert Peel had expected, and intended to get, from Irish landlords. It was a report of foxes upon a flock of geese; and it clearly appeared in its pages that the geese had nothing to say for themselves why judgment should not be passed upon them, to be devoured whole, with the feathers. Upon that “Report” Sir Robert was determined, indeed, to act, and did act with sweeping effect. But in the meantime, something must be done to divide and distract the Repeal cause. The people were becoming perilously organized; and any accident might in a moment shiver to atoms the “ethical experiment of moral force.”
Danger threatened from the side of America. President Polk had declared that the American title to the Oregon territory, up to a certain line of latitude, was “clear and unquestionable.” Sir Robert Peel had declared that a great portion of what was so claimed belonged to England, and England would defend it. Now, there had sprung up, within two or three years, a close correspondence and alliance between the Irish in America and the Irish at home; and encouraging and inspiring addresses were regularly sent over, accompanied by large remittances of money.
The addresses were generally written by Robert Tyler, who was then, as he is yet, a warm and disinterested friend of the Irish race. O’Connell was glad to get the money; but the tone of the addresses sometimes made his old brown wig stand on end; and the poor “Head Pacificator” snorted with alarm for the “ethereal and balmy principle.” The Nation gave unmistakable notification that in case of war about Oregon, the Americans might count upon a diversion in Ireland.
Suddenly, Sir Robert Peel’s Ministerial organs announced that there were “good measures,” or what the English call “ameliorations,” in store for Ireland. And in truth three measures, having much show of liberality, were soon brought forward. They were all cunningly calculated to the great end – the breaking up of our Repeal Organization. On the 2nd of April, then, Sir Robert “sent a Message of Peace to Ireland”: – it was a proposed Bill to give some additional thousands per annum to the Catholic College of Maynooth; and in the House of Commons the Premier thus urged his measure: –
“I say this without hesitation, and recollect that we have been responsible for the peace of Ireland: yon must, in some way or other, break up that formidable confederacy which exists against the British government and British connection (hear, hear). I do not believe you can break it up by force. You can do much to break it up by acting in a spirit of kindness, and forbearance, and generosity (cheers).”
It was novel to hear these good words; and we knew they meant fraud. But the Premier continued: –
“There rises in the far western horizon a cloud [Oregon], small indeed, but threatening future storms. It became my duty on the part of the government, on that day, in temperate but significant language, to depart so far from the caution which is usually observed by a Minister, as to declare publicly, that while we were most anxious for the amicable adjustment of the differences – while we would leave nothing undone to effect that amicable adjustment, – yet, if our rights were invaded, we were prepared and determined to maintain them (loud cheers.) I own to you, that when I was called upon to make that declaration, I did recollect with satisfaction and consolation, that the day before I had sent a message of peace to Ireland.”
The object of the bill was to provide more largely for the endowment of Catholic Professors, and the education of young men for the Catholic Church; and the Minister prudently calculated that it would cool the ardour of a portion of the Catholic clergy for Repeal of the Union. It was forced through both Lords and Commons as a party question, though vehemently opposed by the intense bigotry and ignorance of the English nation. But the Premier put it to them in that irresistible form – Vote for our measure or we will not answer for the Union!
Another of the Premier’s ameliorations was the Colleges Bill, for creating and endowing three purely secular colleges in Ireland, to give a good course of education without references to religious belief. This also was sure to be regarded as a great boon by a portion of the Catholic clergy, – while another portion was just as sure to object violently to the whole scheme; some because it would place education too much under the control of the English Government; and others because the education was to be “mixed,” – strict Catholics being much in favour of educating Catholic youth separately.
Here then was a fruitful source of quarrel among Repealers; and in fact it arrayed bishop against bishop, and O’Connell against “Young Ireland.” The walls of Conciliation Hall rung with denunciations, not of the Union but of “Godless Colleges,” and of “the young infidel party.”
But the Premier had another plot in operation. Forages, Protestant England had refused to recognize the Pope as a Sovereign, or to send a Minister to the Vatican. It was still illegal to send an avowed Minister; but Sir Robert sent a secret one. He was to induce his Holiness to take some order with the Catholic bishops and priests of Ireland, to draw them off in some degree from the Repeal agitation. By what motives and inducements that agent operated upon the Pope, one can only conjecture; and my conjecture is this: Italy was then in continual danger of revolution; – if Sardinia and Naples should whip out their kings, the Pope would not be safe.
Within the year that had passed, England had demonstrated that she held in her hand the clue to all those Republican conspiracies, by her post-office espionage; and it was evident that the same Sir James Graham, who had copied the private correspondence of Mazzini and the Bandieras, and laid it all before the King of Naples, could as easily have kept it all to himself. Highly desirable, surely, that “peace, law, and order” in Italy should secure so useful a friend.
In short, the Sacred College sent a Rescript to the Irish clergy, declaring that whereas it had been reported to His Holiness that many of them devoted themselves too much to politics, and spoke too rashly in public concerning affairs of State, – they were thereafter to attend to their religious duties. It was carefully given out, in the English Press, that the Pope had denounced the Repeal: if he had done so, nobody would have minded it, because Catholics do not admit his jurisdiction in temporal affairs. Hear how MacNevin, a young Catholic lawyer, spoke of this fulmination on its first appearance, and while yet it was generally believed to be directly aimed against the Repeal Agitation: –
“By whom was the Holy Father informed that certain prelates were ‘nimiuin addicti politicis negotiis et minus prudentes de republica,’ which I translate Repeal (cheers)? By whose whisperings did he learn that the Bishop of Ardagh or the Priest of Clontibret were too prominent or too imprudent? We are informed, sir, that there is an English emissary, – shall I say spy? it is now an established English functionary, – at Rome (loud cheers).
Is his the discretion which guides the Cardinal Prefect of the Propaganda? Do not suppose, for a moment, that I question the supremacy of the Pope in religious matters. Surely nothing is farther from my mind. But, sir, I do question his right to dictate to an Irish clergyman the degree of prominence or prudence with which he shall serve his country. I hope I am not irreverent in doing so. I shall continue to hold nay opinion until I am authoritatively informed that he has the right, – then I shall be silent. But I never heard before, and it will be a singular doctrine, in my view of the case, that his Holiness can take cognizance of the political movements of the Irish people, and use his influence to disarrange the powers we bring to bear in favour of our liberty (cheers).
Now, mark who will applaud this repressive movement the most: – why, the men who for centuries have denounced you, and falsely denounced you, as being under the influence of the temporal power of Rome. They made it high treason to communicate with Rome; they sank to the mean vulgarity of withholding the usual diplomatic relations between European courts; they invented a præmunire to keep out the corruption of the Seven-hilled City; but they are now moving every engine to induce the Pope to lend a hand at suppressing Repeal. I beg to tell them, neither he nor they can do it (tremendous applause). If our liberty depended on a monarch or a mob – if it waited on the dictum of a prelate or a Pope – if it could be wrested from us by intrigue – if it were not a thing to be Avon and kept by honour, and courage, and fidelity, – I would prefer to see the country remain the comfortable servant of England, with a little better food, and a degree of higher wages (cheers).”
It was soon settled, however, that the Rescript had no such power, and presumed that it had no such intention, on the part of the Pope; yet a certain prudent reserve began to be observable in the Repeal speeches of the clergy. So far, the Premier’s Roman policy had succeeded.
Mr. Grey Porter, the dangerous pamphleteer, who wanted 100,000 militia-men, was soon disgusted out of the Repeal Association. In fact, he found that no accounts of the money transactions of that body were ever published; although they were always open to any member who might go to the offices to examine them. He suddenly washed his hands of the whole affair, went to Rome, and hunted all the next season in the Campagna, – thinking on accounts.
One word on these accounts. O’Brien, Davis, and all the circle denominated “Young Ireland,” were always in favour of a publication of the accounts, because it would take out of the mouth, of the enemy a very common taunt against Mr. O’Connell – that he was taking the people’s money and not telling what he did with it. They knew also that much of it was employed in paying unnecessary salaries, and to very unworthy persons, – for it was one singular fatality of O’Connell, that his creatures, dependants, and employés, were always of the rascal species. Yet none of us ever suspected that O’Connell used one farthing of the money for any other purpose than furthering the Repeal cause, according to his best judgment.
The man did not care for money, save as a political engine; and I have no doubt, for my own part, that, when he died, Ireland was in his debt. It was a point gained, however, for the English, to send Grey Porter to hunt in the Campagna of Rome. To create a grudge between Irish Repealers and the Americans was the next point.
There dwelt in Dublin a benevolent-looking, elderly gentleman of the name of James Haughton; a Protestant of some sect or other; Quaker, perhaps. He joined all benevolent enterprises; interested himself for plundered Indian Rajahs – made temperance speeches – was against “flogging in the army,” capital punishments, and in general everything that was strong, harsh, or unpleasant; and being a wealthy man, in a good position in society, his sayings were generally treated with respect.
Such a character, of course, was desperately excited about negro slavery. But he was also a zealous Repealer; and he even seemed to have associated together in his mind (by some logical process which I have not learned) the cause of “Abolition” with the cause of Irish Independence. Mr. Haughton, accordingly, was sorely scandalized by Robert Tyler’s sympathy, and even by the money which authenticated it. And he wrote a public letter, from which I extract a few sentences: –
“I believe in my soul that Robert Tyler is one of the greatest enemies of Irishmen and of Irish liberty on the face of the earth. He knows that our countrymen have much political power in America; he is anxious to gain their suffrages for his party; these are cheaply purchased by a few hollow-hearted and fiery speeches in favour of Irish independence, and by a willingness to contribute to our Repeal fund. I unite with the Liberator in repudiating all such unhallowed sympathy and assistance.”
O’Connell afterwards followed up this by rejecting and sending back, with contumelious words, some money remitted from a Southern State in aid of his Repeal Exchequer. In the September of this year, ’45, John O’Connell, in Conciliation Hall, thus deals with the subject, – and it will doubtless be mortifying to American readers to learn that this gentleman felt it his duty to pass a censure upon General Jackson: –
“No one could admire all that was worthy of imitation in General Jackson’s character more sincerely than he (Mr. J. O’Connell). He was unquestionably a man of great firmness, and of undaunted courage in carrying out his views; and there was this feature in the history of his life which it was not likely many in that Hall would revere his memory the less for namely, that he had given a capital good licking to England (loud and vehement applause).
That seemed to cover a multitude of sins (hear, hear). He would not the more particularly as the man was dead be found to indulge in any lengthened attack upon him. He spoke only to vindicate himself, and to vindicate those and he believed they were a majority of the Irish people who abhorred negro slavery, and who could not allow any palliation for those who tolerated it (cheers).
It was for this reason he adverted to the subject, and no matter how high General Jackson might have stood in the estimation of the world, he would not for a moment have it supposed that the Irish people were admirers of all parts of his character (hear). It was a blot upon General Jackson’s otherwise bright name, that he was a steadfast and inveterate supporter of the accursed system of slavery.”
So far, the Premier’s plans were successful in breaking up the Repeal movement. Religious disputes were introduced by the Colleges Bill; and this held the Protestants aloof, and produced bitter altercation throughout the country. By the discussion on slavery, American alliance and co-operation were checked; a great gain to the Premier; for the Americans, and the Irish in America, all looked forward to something stronger than “moral force.”
The Minister thought he might proceed, under cover of this tumult of senseless debate, to take the first step in his plan for the depopulation of Ireland in pursuance of the “Devon Commission” Report. Accordingly, his third measure for the “amelioration” of Ireland was a bill ostensibly providing for “Compensation of Tenants in Ireland,” but really calculated for the destruction of the last relics of Tenant-Right. In introducing this bill, Lord Stanley said: –
“Now, my Lords, I apprehend there is no man who knows aught of the state of Ireland who will not concur in this statement of the report – that between the population and the means of employing the population there is a great and alarming disproportion (hear, hear); and that that disproportion can be met and conquered only by one of two modes; either by reducing the population to the limits of the means of giving employment, or by increasing the employment in proportion to the population.”
I need not go through the details of the proposed measure: it is enough to observe that Lord Stanley admitted that he contemplated the “removal of a vast mass of labour” from its present field. “In justice to the colonies,” he would not recommend, as the Devon Commissioners did, merely that the whole of this vast mass should be shot out naked and destitute upon their shores; and his bill proposed the employment of a part of it on the waste lands of Ireland, – of which waste lauds there were four millions of acres capable of improvement. A portion of the “vast mass of labour” removed from other places was to be set to work under certain conditions to reclaim these lands for the landlords.
The bill, though framed entirely for the landlords, did yet propose to interfere, in some degree, with their absolute rights of property. They did not choose that tenants should be presumed to have any right to “compensation,” even nominally; or any other right whatever; and as for the waste lands, they wanted them for snipe-shooting. Accordingly they resisted the bill with all their power; and English landlords, on principle, supported them in that resistance. On the other hand, the Irish Tenants, with one consent, exclaimed against the bill as a bill for open robbery and slaughter.
A meeting of county Down tenants resolved that it would rob their class (in one province, Ulster, alone,) of £1,500,000 sterling. The Nation commented upon it under the title of “Robbery of Tenants (Ireland) Bill.” The opposition of the tenant class, and of the Repeal newspapers, would have been of small avail, but for the resistance – upon other grounds – of the landlords. The bill was defeated; Sir Robert Peel had to devise some other method of getting rid of the “surplus population.”
Reflect one moment on the established idea of there being a “surplus population” in Ireland; – an idea and phrase which were at that time unquestioned and axiomatic in political circles; while, at the same time, there were four millions of improvable waste lands; and Ireland was still, this very year, exporting food enough to feed eight millions of people in England. Ireland, perhaps, was the only country in the world which had both surplus produce for export and surplus population for export; – too much food for her people and too many people for her food.
It was with bitter disappointment and gloomy foreboding, that Davis and his friends witnessed the progress of disorganization and discomfiture in that Repeal movement which had so many elements of power at first. O’Brien, indeed, still laboured on the Committees, preparing Reports and the like, with the same calm and imperturbable cheerfulness.
If he felt discouragement he did not show it, and the agitation proceeded much as usual, with occasional interruptions, discussions about Catholic faith and Negro Slavery. But towards the close of this year, two events befell, which gave the enemy most material aid. One was the potato blight, which threatened to cut off almost the whole supply of food on which the great mass of the people had been reduced to subsist.
But towards the close of this year, two events befell, which gave the enemy most material aid. One was the potato blight, which threatened to cut off almost the whole supply of food on which the great mass of the people had been reduced to subsist.
The other was the sudden death of Thomas Davis. Of him, his peerless character, his work, and his loss, never to be repaired, I shall endeavour to give a more specific idea in my next chapter. That of all the band of friends and comrades who used to be called “Young Ireland,” Davis was the foremost and best, the gentlest and bravest – the most accomplished and the most devoted – there is not one amongst us who is not glad and proud to proclaim; – the more readily, perhaps, seeing that Davis is dead.
But the potato blight, and consequent famine, placed in the hands of the British government an engine of State by which they were eventually enabled to clear off, not a million, but two millions and a half, of the “surplus population” – to “preserve law and order” in Ireland, (what they call law and order,) and to maintain the “integrity of the Empire” for this time. It was in the Winter of 1846-7 that proceedings began to be taken in a business-like manner – (and in a business-like manner I shall relate them) – for the Last Conquest of Ireland, (Perhaps).