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United Irishman (No. 7), March 25, 1848.

MY LORD, – Being disappointed in a premature street insurrection, which you hoped to drown in the blood of Dublin citizens, you have been at length shamed into an attempt at vindicating the “law” in the courts of law. This is much better and more manly. It was a shame to let “seditious” writers and speakers go on so long with impunity exciting disaffection, – up to the very point, as you though, of revolution, – and then, instead of citing them to the courts, which stood open all the while upon Inns’-quay to lie in wait at the corners of all streets with your well-whetted slaughter-knives, to mangle the people. Indeed, it was a shame: keep those butchering-tools for the French, in case they should unhappily come to propagate Equality and Fraternity here; and for the future, my dear Lord, govern your province by “law,” according to those humane and never-to-be-enough-admired methods provided by the British Constitution; and with that mixture of firmness and conciliation which is admitted on all hands to distinguish your Lordship above all other statesmen.

Not that I join by any means in the ridicule which has been cast upon you for your extensive military preparations. Some of the newspapers, I observe, try with all their might, to be facetious at your Lordship’s expense; but truly I think there was nothing laughable in the business. There was not a single butchering-knife too many – not a single ambuscade in the College, the Custom-house, or Lundy Foot’s, that was not a necessary precaution. For this People are, I must confess it, so desperately disaffected (not knowing and appreciating as they ought the blessings of the constitution aforesaid), that your Excellency is actually not safe in Dublin. There seems to be some danger, that so long as your Excellency shall honour our city with your residence, you will need to be guarded night and day in such sort as very few paternal governors have been in this world. Mind not, therefore, the laughter of a ribald press, and take care of your precious life.

Meantime, you have undertaken to vindicate the law, in the Court of Queen’s Bench, “before the Queen herself,” and by the help of the worthy Chief Justice. Truly, it was high time. I am no advocate for “Liberty of the Press;” I think no man can commit a much graver crime than exciting discontent against government and laws, wherever there are government and laws. I hold that in any well-ordered state – in any state, indeed, that has a pretence of government at all, such a society as the Irish Confederation – such a journal as THE UNITED IRISHMAN – ought not to be suffered for one week to pollute the social atmosphere with its poison; it is a nuisance, a scandal, and ought to be abated quickly, and put out of sight, if not by the indignation of the community, then, surely, by the strong arm of the law.

But the case is this: – I assert and maintain that in the island of Ireland there is no government or law – that what passes for “government” is a foul and fraudulent usurpation, based on corruption and falsehood, supported by force, and battening on blood. I hold that the meaning and sole object of that government is to make sure of a constant supply of Irish food for British tables, Irish wool for British backs, Irish blood and bone for British armies; to make sure, in word, of Ireland for the English, and to keep down, scourge, and dragoon the Irish into submission and patient starvation. This being the case, I hold that the Irish nation is, and has long been, and ought to be, in a state of war with “government,” albeit the said government has heretofore had clear victory, and is at this moment in full possession of the island, its inhabitants, and all that is theirs. But your lordship, on the other hand, maintains, I presume, that the thing called a government is not a foreign usurpation, but one of the “institutions of the country” – that the persons composing it are not robbers, and butchers, but statesmen – that their object is not the plunder and starvation of the people, but the good order and peace of society, the amelioration of social relations, and the dispensation of justice between man and man.

Here are two very distinct propositions: and it impossible they can both be true. Either there is a government or there is none; Law or no Law: – either the Confederation and THE UNITED IRISHMAN are a nuisance, or else you are a nuisance. You ought not to have suffered our existence so long, or else we ought to have extinguished yours. You and we are mortal enemies; and now that issue has been happily joined, I fervently hope it will result in the utter destruction of one or other of the parties.

When I speak of your destruction, my lord, I mean only official extinction; the abolition of that government of which you are agent; – when I speak of ours, I mean our death on field or scaffold, by your weapon of “Law,” or your weapon of steel. I mean, simply, that we will overthrow your government, or die. This trifling persecution for “sedition” is but a beginning: you have invited us to fight you on the battle-ground of “Law” – depend upon it you shall have enough of it; the resources of this “Law” of yours will be taxed to their very uttermost; I already hear your Courts ringing with “Sedition,” boiling over with High Treason, pouring forth manifestos of Rebellion from the very Temple of Justice (as the Chief Justice’s den is called), to fly by myriads and millions over the land, until every cabin in the island shall echo with curses upon foreign law and foreign governors.

This is on the supposition that time is given for your legal enterprise to develop itself into all its fair proportions – which is far from certain. None of us knows what any day or night may bring forth.

But if the cause do come to be tried before a jury, there is one stipulation I would make: – your lordship already guesses it; – need I repeat it? Why should you pack a jury against us? Remember, my lord, you belong to that liberal and truly enlightened party called “Whigs”; it is only a “Tory,” you know, who packs: – and remember, also, that although I deny the lawfulness of your “law” and your law-courts altogether, and hold a trial for sedition before a packed jury in Ireland quite as constitutional a proceeding as a trial before an unpacked one, yet your lordship cannot take this view of the matter. Your case is that there is law in the land – that we have broken that law, and are to be tried by that law. Remember, therefore, all the fine things that your jurists and statesmen have said and written about the great palladium of British liberty and so-forth: remember how the learned Sir William Blackstone hath delivered himself on this point; how that “the founders of the English laws have with excellent forecast contrived that the truth of every accusation, whether preferred in the shape of indictment, information, or appeal, should be confirmed by the unanimous suffrage of twelve of his (the accused person’s) equals and neighbours, indifferently chosen, and superior to all suspicion.”

I will not weary you by reciting the commendations which the admirable Sir Matthew Hale and the inestimable Sir Edward Coke have bestowed upon this most ancient and laudable custom. I am quite sure your lordship is aware that those great doctors of your law never contemplated this great palladium in the for which has been uniformly adopted by the English Government in Ireland – an arranged list of thorough-going partisans, who can be depended on for voting one way in politics. A trial for “sedition” here is a mere political voting, and as your faction (that is, the English faction,) have held the sole appointment of all the officers and clerks employed in that business, they have always been able, by stealing lists, or juggling and falsifying cards and numbers, to secure twelve men who will vote for the Castle, and find any one guilty whom the Castle does not love.

This method of applying the British palladium to Irish affairs is as old as the introduction of the said palladium into our island: and Master Edmund Spenser, a great poet and great undertaker in Munster, in his pleasant dialogue between Eudoxus and Irenaeus, distinctly says, “The law of itself, as I said, is good, and the first institution thereof being given to all Englishmen very rightfully; but now that the Irish have stepped into the very rooms of our English, we are now to become heedful and provident in juries.” But Eudoxus suggests “that the judges and chief magistrates of the land which have the choosing and nomination of those jurors either most Englishmen and such Irishmen as were of the soundest judgement and discretion.”

Of late years the requisite management cannot be resorted to so openly. But your lordship knows how the trick is done. You know that when the trial of the seven Repeal conspirators was approaching, somebody stole one of the lists containing the names of the special jurors, so that those names never went into the ballot-box at all; – you are aware also that the operations of the ballot itself are mysterious; and that in short, by one contrivance or another, your juries are always well and truly packed. I suppose your lordship was never actually present in the Crown-office while the balloting was going on. I will describe it to you. First, then, you are to suppose that the list of names has been delivered safely by the Recorder to the Sheriff, and been by him duly numbered, and the number of each name written on a separate card – that the list, in fact, the whole list, and nothing but the list, is now actually in the ballot-box, faithfully numbered to correspond with the Sheriff’s book; – you must suppose all this, albeit I know a rather violent supposition; – and then, in presence of the attorneys for the Crown and for the accused criminals, forty-eight cards are to be taken out of the box. On one side of a table stands a grave-looking elderly gentleman with the ballot-box before him; on the other side sits a second still more grave, with an open book; in the book is written, each several number, on the margin, and opposite the number the name of the juror thereby denoted. The first grave gentleman shakes the box, puts in his hand, and takes out a card, from which he reads the number – then the other grave gentleman turns to that number in the book, and pronounces the name of the juror so numbered, whose name and address are then taken down as one of the forty-eight; and this process is repeated forty-eight times.

Now it is painful to harbour any suspicions of such grave-looking elderly gentlemen: but you know juries are packed; that is an absolute truth; and somebody must be the villain. Well, then, it is said – I say nothing, but it is said – that those two gentlemen know each juror just as well by his number as his name; and so, when the first takes out a card and finds 253, for example, written on it – if he knows that 253 would vote for the People, and against the Crown, it is said he gives out, (for as solemn as he looks), not 253, but, say 255, or some loyal number; and thus a safe man is put on the list. Or, if any one is standing by, and has an opportunity of seeing the card, he cries 253, and winks, or otherwise telegraphs to the other grave gentleman. Then the onus is upon the man with the book, who has nothing to do but call out a loyal man for the disloyal number, and so you have a safe voter still. There seems no help for this, save to place men close behind both these elderly gentlemen, to see that the first calls the right number, and the second gives the right name.

They never make the mistake, these elderly gentleman, of turning out the whole forty-eight all of the right sort: there is no need: there is a margin to the extent of twelve: and so they generally leave about nine or ten dubious names amongst the forty-eight. The crown has afterwards a right to strike off twelve peremptorily, without reason assigned, and always gets rid of the men who would vote for the people.

Thus, my lord, your jury is safely packed, and your verdict, or rather vote, is sure. They poll to a man for the Crown.

The earlier adventures of the special jury-list, its perils in the Recorder’s office, and its moving accidents in the Sheriff’s dominions, with its long and dangerous journeyings under the direction of suspicious guides, till its final appearance in the jury-box at Inns’-quay, it were long and wearisome to tell. I do not, however, mean to lose sight of that subject, and shall, probably, have to call your lordship’s attention to it again, as well as that of the Chief Justice, the Sheriff, the Recorder, the English Prime Minister, and the “Secretary of State for the Home Department.”

In the meantime I cannot help repeating my congratulations to you on the fact, that the Irish nation and the British government are now finally at issue. Whichsoever field of battle you prefer, the Queen’s Bench or the streets and fields – whichsoever weapon, packed juries, or whetted sabres – I trust, I believe, you will now be stoutly met. One party or the other must absolutely yield: you must put us down, or we will put you down.

I remain my lord,
Your lordship’s mortal enemy,
JOHN MITCHEL
12, Trinity-street, March 24, 1848.