From the first issue of The Irish People, November 28, 1863.
Since the 12th century, England has been the unsleeping enemy of Ireland.
Generally her tyranny has shown itself, in the form of undisguised oppression.
Sometimes, however, she has affected to conciliate and make great concessions to Ireland.
Whenever this has been the case, the apparent concession has invariably had the effect of extending her unjust authority. England’s open and avowed hostility has never proved so effectual a method of rivetting on Ireland the fetters of alien rule, as her occasional insidious adoption of the fatal seeming of friendship.
There have been too very remarkable illustrations of this, within the last hundred years. The first was the acknowledgement of the independence of the Irish Parliament in 1782; the second was the concession of Catholic Emancipation in 1829.
These concessions have generally been looked upon as unalloyed benefits. Yet we assert, that, owing to the manner in which they were gained, they have really proved curses, rather than blessings, to our country.
In ’82, Ireland was on the point of achieving a glorious revolution. Had England not conceded at once, an appeal to arms would have been made by the Irish people, whose military might and enthusiasm, at the moment, were well nigh irresistible; while, on the other hand, the martial ardour and available resources of England had sunk to a low ebb. That, in the event of a war-struggle, Ireland would have triumphed, no one can reasonably doubt. But victory in the field would have made her achievement of independence real and complete, not an abortive sham. It would have precipitated separation. It would have glorified the Irish people. And, doing so, it would have enabled the Catholics, with arms in their hands, to assert their right to religious liberty, and the whole democracy to demand and to win that preponderance of political power, to which they were entitled. Finally it would have given Ireland an army and a navy, in a word all the appliances and securities of real independence.
But no war-struggle took place. England struck at once, and conceded. Thus the parliamentary independence of ’82 was won, if not altogether ingloriously, at least peacefully; and the consequence was, it turned out, not independence, but a mockery and phantom! True national independence never was and never will be anywhere achieved, save by the sword. The revolution of ’82 was, after all, a plausible, solemn, deluding humbug – a clever manoeuvre of the English government to transform a national movement of glorious promise into a mere imposing piece of pageantry. Accordingly, while a few orators distinguished themselves, the people at large were not ennobled by sacrifices and heroic deaths. No permanent and potent military and naval organization, trained and tested by actual service, or really adequate to the task of guarding Ireland’s independence, arose. The volunteer organisation, as might be expected, dwindled and finally fell to pieces. GRATTAN, charmed with English concession, canted about loyalty, and resisted FLOOD’s more daring tendencies towards separation. The people having done nothing so grand as to make their claims irresistible – GRATTAN could dare despise democracy and the reform convention; and FLOOD, though championing popular reform, leaning even towards separation, could inconsistently spurn at the idea of allowing the Catholics to be anything save hewers of wood and drawers of water. Had the people been ennobled by a war of independence, these things could not have been so.
England’s concession, then, was a master-stroke of policy. The whole system that resulted from the arrangement of ’82 was anomalous and absurd, and could by no possibility endure. According to the theory of ’82, here were two countries with perfectly independent legislatures; yet united by that absurdity – “the golden link of the crown;” both legislatures, mark, having the power to impeach the king’s ministers. Thus, the king’s Irish ministers might, in obedience to the pressure of the Irish legislature, have felt it necessary to advise him to declare war, as king of Ireland, against any given country; while, at the same time, his English ministers might have advised him, as king of England, to remain at peace, the interests of England, in the supposed case requiring, and the feelings of the English legislature being in favour of peace. What charming “confusion worse confounded” should, in such an event, have arisen. In fact, considering the principle of ministerial responsibility, under the ’82 regime, circumstances might even have arisen, in which GEORGE III., as king of Ireland, would have been called on to declare war against himself, as king of England. Such a system could not last. The absurdity of “the golden link” theory was, in effect, tested three times between ’82 and 1800. The act of union was the natural result of ’82. Ireland lost her golden opportunity the day, on which English concession prevented her achievement of real independence by war.
The second instance to which we referred, as illustrative of the insidious nature of England’s concessions to Ireland, was the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829. We maintain that the chief effect of this belauded concession has been to retard the winning of our independence and to denationalise thousands of our countrymen.
If the English government had not conceded Emancipation quietly, the Irish Catholics would, at length, have taken up arms to fight for their religious liberties. The liberal Protestants would have joined them; and the struggle would have finally expanded into the grand proportions of a war of independence. Ireland would probably now be a country rejoicing in the blessings of independence, rich in the memories of a heroic national struggle, strong with the dignity, self-respect and energy, which result from success in such a struggle – instead of being, today, a byword and a mockery among the nations, she might be, in very deed, the freest, the most prosperous, the most glorious island of the sea!
But Emancipation was gained otherwise. England, insidiously and fatally for Ireland, conceded it ere a blow was struck.
There were two features, we may assert, in emancipation, which rendered its achievement detrimental to the prospects of Ireland.
The first was its being gained peacefully. This circumstance deprived it of all ennobling associations of sacrifice and heroism. All the memories connected with Emancipation are of a common-place and ignoble character, wholly unfitted to exalt the national mind.
The other bad feature in Emancipation, upon which we shall now touch, was the fact of its being gained separately from national independence. Being won peacefully, this was a matter of course.
Emancipation was a measure, calculated, almost exclusively, to benefit the upper and middle classes of the Catholics. While it left the general population more miserable than it found them, its achievement and the subsequent corporation reforms opened up the paths of professional and parliamentary distinction to the wealthy and educated Catholics, in short completely satisfied their ambition. This was a serious blow to the national hopes of Ireland. Those intelligent and educated Catholics, who ought to form the leaders, guides, champions and rallying-points of the people in any struggle for social and national regeneration, are separated from them ever since. Having gained their own point, having secured their own interests, gratified their own sordid ambition – they take no farther part in struggles for country or countrymen. It is, in short, always an insidious and fatal boon, when the claims of, what are styled, the upper classes of a community are conceded separately from the rights of the people at large. The class gratified is, thereby, bought over from the struggle for the general weal. Thus Emancipation in Ireland, separated from the cause of independence, has turned out to be simply a means, in the hands of the foreign government of England, of bribing and corrupting wealthy or educated Catholics, of seducing them from the national ranks.
These pernicious results of Emancipation would not be compensated by the fact of its having given us Catholic judges and magistrates, to try the people, even if this last circumstance produced a fairer administration of justice, or, in other words, gave fairer play to the Catholic on trial, than he had before the year ’29. But still less does the possession by Catholics of the seats of justice compensate for the denationalising results of Emancipation, when we know, that, as long as Ireland’s present connexion with England holds, and as long as our present aristocratic system lasts, whenever a Catholic peasant or patriot is arraigned before him, on political or agrarian charges, the Catholic judge will prove as supple and iniquitous a tool of tyranny, as the most bigoted orange partisan could be.
Truly it can afford slender consolation to the Catholic victim of landlordism to know that the special commissioner, who sentences him so impressively to be hanged, is of the same creed with himself.
But there is one point, above all, which we should remember in estimating the effects of the Relief Act of ’29. It is this: – While it never did a particle of good to the masses of the people, today more oppressed than ever, it is had the specious appearance of removing a grievance and an ignominy; and so has taken away one healthy element of wrath against British rule from the minds of the people, who unfortunately are, in most cases, more influenced by shows, than by realities.
In a word, we do not hesitate to say, that Emancipation has done more harm than good. To benefit Ireland, it should never have been separated from the national cause. It and Ireland’s independence should have sunk or swam together; and it should have been won by the sword!
Finally, if, on the one hand, Emancipation has deprived the Irish people of those from whom, considering their talents and acquirements, they might justly claim help and guidance in a struggle for independence; on the other hand, let us guard against exaggerating the importance of the loss. The commercial classes would, in any case, be liable to corrupting influences. In all countries, in times of perilous crisis, they have too often been found wanting in public virtue. The extinction of patriotism in the professional classes, however, is a more serious loss. Yet, even this is far from being ruinous. The most hasty glance will perceive, that there are good men (more than enough, thank Heaven) to fill up these gaps in the host of patriotism. There are this moment, in Ireland, thousands of brave and intelligent young men, with life before them and still undebased by the sordid worldliness which here, even more than in other lands, besets the successful man. These young men, with thoughts freshened and souls alive with faith and eager patriotism, have all the essential qualities which fit men to form the rallying points of a people in the hour of danger. Such were the men who officered the revolutionary armies of France, and, by their giant energy, overthrew the outworn fabrics of old European society. Young men, not equal to those whom we have yet available in Ireland, have led, in the present American war, with valour and devotion never surpassed, through battles terrible beyond all precedent, the companies and regiments of the Federal armies. In spite, then, of any and all untoward issues of the past, our confidence in the national cause should remain rooted and strong. Let the people only strive, with might and main, to develop and rouse to vigorous life all the intelligence, energy, and virtue they have amongst themselves – let them do this, and they will soon find substitutes within their own ranks, for the corrupt and craven classes that have abandoned the cause of their country. To this end, we say, let the people toil day and night. This is what is chiefly requisite, in order to make Ireland an independent nation!