From The United Irishman (No. 10), 15 April, 1848.
MY LORD, – The Crown and Government of your gracious Sovereign Lady are, it seems, in danger, and want “further security.” Security not against foreign enemies – for the Frenchman, the American, the very Russian bear, give assurances of friendly relations – but against her own beloved, highly-favoured, too-indulgently-used, but ungrateful, subjects! What is more wonderful, the danger arises not in the administration of those wicked Tories, – wretches obstructive of “human progress,” the enemies of the human race, – but while you, even you, rule her Majesty’s councils; you, the very high-priest of Liberality and Concession; you, who were to have ruled by justice, not coercion – opinion, not bayonets; whose thoughts were for ever intent on commercial reform, or municipal reform, or sanatory reform. What could a conciliatory Premier do (or promise) that you have not done (or promised)? Yet the very Crown and Constitution are in danger. May GOD be between us and harm!
And, what is strangest of all, it seems to be from the Irish that you fear this danger most; the people whom you have been nourishing, cherishing, and spoon-feeding, by means of so many kind and well-paid British nurses, for two years – on whom you have lavished so many tons of printed paper, so many millions of cooked rations – the exact number is it not written in the books of Bromley and the archives of the Union workhouses? – These are the people who plot “treason,” and eagerly flock to hear “open and advised speaking,” eagerly devour “published, printed, and written” language, all urging them to arm for the overthrow of British rule in Ireland! It is a bad world!
I fear that your Lordship, in your Whig complacency, has but a slender perception of the truth. Think of it a moment calmly. Here is this UNITED IRISHMAN newspaper, that your Lordship has been studying so attentively of late. It has reach only its tenth number; it was hardly advertised, and not puffed at all; it has been written ten with no extraordinary talent, has displayed, I muss confess, but little wit, and less brilliancy; – yet never a newspaper in Ireland reached such a circulation before in so short a time, and that circulation, remember, is amongst the very poorest of the people both in town and country; it is the very organ of pauperism; the public opinion it seeks to concentrate is that of the “Men of No Property” – A Pauper Public Opinion!
And why has it grown so popular? Why do poor men club their pence to buy it, and get it read to eager crowds every Saturday evening and Sunday morning? Why? – Because it utters for them the deep and inextinguishable hatred they all bear in their inmost souls against the “Crown and Government” of Britain; because it translates this holy hatred, never yet uttered, save in stifled curses and gnashing of teeth, into loud defiance, and hurls it weekly in the face of all your Viceroys, and Premiers, and Commanders-in-Chief; and especially because it points out the way, and the only true way, in which brave men ever win freedom or bridle tyrants, and exhorts them continually to rise out of the miserable slough of moral force wherein O’Connell plunged them, and stand erect with the words of freemen on their lips, and the Arms of freemen in their hands, defying “Law,” trampling on Cant, and waging open war upon Humbug.
But you, the “Government,” will not endure this sort of teaching! You will check it at all hazards: – if it cannot be stopped as a misdemeanour, you will make it “felony:” – if nothing else will do, the people of Ireland must be weaned from anarchists and “Jacobins” by taking the said Jacobins, chaining them in couples, cropping their heads, arraying them in grey jackets, and shipping them to the Antipodes!
And indeed, my lord, this “vigorous” policy will prove an effectual check upon us Irish “revolutionists,” provided the men with whom you have to deal are fools, braggarts, traitors, and cowards. If we have undertaken the trade of patriotism for profit – if we have played the game of patriotism for notoriety – if we have been merely aspirants to the cheap martyrdom of two years’ imprisonment, with fetes, and levees, and couches – why, in that case, the thing is at an end – you have tamed us, and fixed a bit between our teeth; – sedition is crushed, and the Queen’s “Crown and Government” are safe for this time.
Or if we have made a gross and signal mistake as to the position, feeling, and necessities of our country – if we have not, after all, a nation at our back, but are merely isolated enthusiasts, fugling preposterously before imaginary troops – in this case, also, our game is over – we shall just get punished – all sensible men will say we deserve it; and there an end.
These issues will soon be tried, and I am glad of it. For twelve long months we have desired to see this day. Twelve months ago, on the Easter Monday of last year, Dublin saw one of the most ignominious Easter festivals – one of the ghastliest galas ever exhibited under the sun – the solemn inauguration, namely, of the Irish nation in its new career of national pauperism. There, in the esplanade before the “Royal Barrack,” was erected the national model soup-kitchen, gaily bedizened, laurelled, and bannered, and fair to see; and in and out, and all around, sauntered parties of our supercilious second-hand “better classes” of the Castle-offices, fed on superior rations at the people’s expense, and bevies of fair dames, and military officers, braided with public braid, and padded with public padding; and there, too, were the pale and piteous ranks of model-paupers, broken tradesmen, ruined farmers, destitute sempstresses, ranged at a respectful distance till the genteel persons had duly inspected the arrangements – and then marched by policemen to the place allotted them, where they were to feed on the meagre diet with chained spoons – to show the “gentry” how pauper spirit can be broken, and pauper appetite can gulp down its bitter bread and its bitterer shame and wrath together; – and all this time the genteel persons chatted and simpered as pleasantly as if the clothes they wore, and the carriages they drove in, were their own – as if “Royal barracks” Castle, and Soup-kitchen, were to last for ever.
We three criminals, my Lord, who are to appear to-day in the Court of Queen’s Bench, were spectators of that soup-kitchen scene; and I believe we all left it with one thought, – that this day we had surely touched the lowest point – that Ireland and the Irish could sink no further; and that she must not see such another Easter Monday, though we should die for it.
My Lord, I came to the conclusion on that day that the Queen’s “Crown and Government” were in danger – nay, that they ought to be in danger; – and I resolved that no effort of mine should be wanting to make the danger increase and become critical. As I looked on the hideous scene, I asked myself whether there were, indeed “law” or “Government” in the land – or if so, whether they were not worse than no law and no government. What had law done for these poor wretches and their five million fellow-paupers throughout Ireland? It was the “law” that carried off all the crops they raised, and shipped them to England; it was “law” that took the labour of their hands, and gave them half food for it while they were able to work; and cast them off to perish, like supernumerary kittens. “Law” told them they must not wear the cloth they wove, nor cut the corn they raised, nor dwell in the houses they builded; and if they dared do any of these things, or remonstrate against the hard usage, “Law” scourged and bullied them, imprisoned, gagged, and coerced them; to bring them to a more submissive mind. And what was more shameful and fatal still, this devoted people were in the hands of “leaders,” who told them that all this “Law” – this London Parliament Law – was the law of God, – that if they violated it by eating the food they made, or wearing the cloth they wove, they committed a crime, and gave strength to the enemy – nay, those “leaders” never failed to thank God in public, with sanctimonious voice and head uncovered, that their fellow-countrymen were dying in patience and perseverance amidst their own bounteous harvests; Parliament Law was acknowledged as the supreme Ruler and Judge, and its decrees submitted to as the inscrutable dispensations of a Parliament Providence.
Such degradation was unexampled in the world. To think that Ireland was my country became intolerable to me. I felt that I had no right to breathe the free air or to walk in the sun; I was ashamed to look my own children in the face, until I should do something towards the overthrow of this dynasty of the Devil. And I resolved that Parliament Law must be openly defied and trampled on; and that I – if no other, even I – would show by countrymen how to do it. For I knew, my lord, that the monster, for all his loud roar and formidable tusks, was impotent against Truth and Right, – in other words that not Parliament Law, at bottom, but God’s justice, ruled the earth. In short, I determined to walk, before the eyes of this downtrodden people, straight into the open jaws of “Law,” to draw his fangs, to tear out his lying tongue, and to fling his carcase to be trampled on by those who had trembled at his nod.
I may be devoured, it is true. “Law” may be able to resist the first attack; and the three first assailants may fall: – yet shall we do our business. We may be destroyed; we will not be defeated.
You heard SMITH O’BRIEN on Monday last, amidst the howling of your Parliament mob, deliver Ireland’s defiance; – think you this man will shrink from your new-made London “felony,” or be gagged and frightened by your “bills” with their huge mob-majorities? But, perhaps, you imagine it was a mere display of individual contumely, or piqued vanity? – My lord, in every word, every syllable, every tittle that O’BRIEN promised or threatened on Monday night, he knew that he was uttering the inmost thoughts and feelings, the cordial hatred and defiance, of five million hearts; and it shall be made good to the letter. No more fortunate event has happened for Ireland than your selection of WILLIAM SMITH O’BRIEN and THOMAS FRANCIS MEAGHER to be treated as degraded criminals or dangerous lunatics; because these are precisely the men who will not blench before your judges, your bayonets, your juries, or your gibbets. What the People want to see in their leaders is individual heroism; is the determination to do themselves what they incite others to do; and seeing that, I believe they will follow, though it were to the gibbet’s foot or the cannon’s muzzle.
See, now, what it is you have undertaken to do! First, to crush and frighten men who have taken upon them a task like ours, moved by such motives, stirred by such passions, sustained by such determination, as I have described to you. Second, to stay discontent and disaffection by shutting the mouths who utter what all think and feel. On this latter point, I am surprised that your lordship’s well-known learning as a political economist has not aided you. There is a demand, a brisk and increasing demand, for treason and sedition; you know demand (see ADAM SMITH) creates a supply. If THE UNITED IRISHMAN be removed, others will be found to furnish the article in any quantity that may be needed; and, indeed, I hereby advertise to all enterprising “Jacobins,” that in Ireland there has been opened an altogether boundless market for this kind of ware; – that the article wanted is of the coarsest and strongest kind; – that ornaments and trimmings (as brilliant humour or tender poetry) are not absolutely necessary; – all that is required being good, sound, hearty, bona fide sedition, plain military instructions, sharp incentives to rebellion, strong treason, and thorough-going felony without benefit of clergy.
However, my lord, as you have undertaken this task – as you have deliberately pitted this British “law” against the Irish nation, there is one little matter I should like to arrange with you. I have already broached the subject to my LORD CLARENDON; but there is no use in talking to him – he is too hopelessly committed to bad company, and involved in evil courses. I mean, of course, the packing of the jury. Your lordship, however, is the author of a work on the British constitution, and also (perhaps you forget it, as most other persons do, but I assure you that you are) of a memoir of Lord WILLIAM RUSSELL, your distinguished ancestor. It is mainly for the sake of refreshing your memory (and the public’s) upon the subject of this memoir, that I have chosen to address my present letter to your lordship. You had great zeal thirty years ago for “constitutional liberty,” and all that sort of thing (you may forget it, but I do assure you that you had) – and you tell, in this memoir, with becoming indignation, how that the Court, when it intended to shed the blood of the popular leaders, cheated the citizens of London of their rights, and got hold of the appointment of the sheriffs (this villainy was only temporary in London – it is a permanent institution of state in Dublin), and how the Court “soon had an opportunity of making use of their new power;” – how, “having shed the blood of Colledge, the Court next attempted the life of Lord SHAFTESBURY” (vol. ii. p. 6) – how the city was thronged with troops to intimidate the people; and how ROGER L’ESTRANGE, in the columns of The Observator (which was the name the Times then went by), declared “that a citizen’s scull was but a thing to try the temper of a soldier’s sword upon” – (vol. 2. p. 11.) You further narrate, my lord, how that when the bloodhounds at last pounced on Lord Russell, “after the examination was finished he was sent a close prisoner to the Tower. Upon his going in, he told his servant, TAUNTON, that he was sworn against, and that they would have his life. TAUNTON said, he hoped it would not be in the power of his enemies to take it. Lord Russell answered Yes; the Devil is loose (meaning that the Sheriff had his instructions.) From this moment he looked on himself as a dying man, and turned his thoughts wholly to another world. He read much in the Scriptures, particularly in the Psalms” – (vol. 2, p. 25.)
Truly, it was time for him to make his soul! But the trial came on; and “upon calling over the names, Lord Russell challenged no less than one-and-thirty; a fact which can hardly be explained,” says your lordship “but by supposing that some pains had been taken by his enemies in the selection.” – p. 40. Your lordship may say that. But all his challenges were of no avail; his enemies had selected too skilfully; and they murdered him on Tower Hill.
In the Act of 1. William & Mary, annulling Lord Russell’s attainder, it is recited, that he was convicted by means of “Undue and illegal returns of jurors.”
It seems, then, that there was packing of juries in those days – a horrible scandal, when practised in England, and against so amiable a nobleman! But does not your lordship know that all these enormities, and worse, are regularly practised in Ireland down to the present day? Do you not know that in Dublin the Sheriff is always the creature of the Crown? And that he is created for this express purpose? Do you not know that your faction – I mean the English government – never got one verdict against a political offender, save from a well and skilfully packed jury? And that in the only case where they did not pack (viz., The Queen against Duffy, tried two years ago), they failed ignominiously.
The reason why they did not pack the jury in this case was, that they had been thoroughly shamed, and brought into disrepute by the monstrous fraud practised in the framing of the jury to try O’CONNELL and the Repeal Conspirators a short time before. They thought they could not repeat that trick so soon again; so they foolishly admitted three of the national party into the box.
I know, my lord, you will not commit that mistake again. I do not quote these passages from your lordship’s book in the expectation that any silly weakness will prevail to make you give us a fair trial. I hope I know my place better; we are mere Irish; and I have not the presumptiont o imagine that we are entitled to as fair a jury as the noble British martyr, Lord WILLIAM RUSSELL. I have set these things down, therefore, not because I hope to produce any effect upon you, but because I know this letter will be read by (or read to) at least a hundred thousand men.
Of course, you will pack the jury against us, merely because all the world knows you dare not bring us to trial before an impartial jury of our countrymen. If you do, it will be the last criminal prosecution in Ireland at the suit of “our Lady the Queen” – as indeed, in any case, I trust it will be the last.
It matters little now whether you pack or do not pack. Whatever kind of trial you select – a fair one or a fraudulent – a trial for misdemeanour, or a trial for felony; – or whether you drop juries altogether, and try grape-shot, I tell you that you are met. The game is afoot; the work is begun; Ireland has now the “British Empire” by the throat; and if she relax his gripe till the monster is strangled, may she be a province, lashed and starved forever. Amen!
I remain, my Lord,
P.S. – I find a sentence in your lordship’s book (it is in vol. ii. p. 178), which it may be interesting to quote – not for you, my lord, but as before, for the aforesaid hundred thousand men. It is in these words: – “It is sufficient to justify the leaders of an insurrection that the people should be thoroughly weary of suffering, and disposed to view with complacency a change of rule.” Very good.