The British Parliament has refused to redress our wrongs, or even to inquire into them. For five long nights were they compelled to listen to arguments, facts, and principles proving that we were sorely oppressed. They did not deny the facts—they did not refute the reasoning—they did not undermine the principles—but they would not try to right us.
“We inherit the right of hatred for six centuries of oppression; what will you do to prove your repentance, and propitiate our revenge?”—and the answer is, “That’s an old story, we wish to hear no more of it.”
Legislature of Britain, you shall hear more of it!
The growing race of Irishmen are the first generation of freemen which Ireland nursed these three centuries. The national schools may teach them only the dry elements of knowledge adulterated with Anglicism, and Trinity College may teach them bigotry, along with graceful lore and strong science; but there are other schools at work. There is a national art, and there is an Irish literature growing up. Day after day the choice of the young men discover that genius needs a country to honour and be loved by. The Irish Press is beginning to teach the People to know themselves and their history; to know other nations, and to feel the rights and duties of citizens. The agitation, whose surges sweep through every nook of the island, converts all that the People learn to national uses; nothing is lost, nothing is adverse; neutrality is help, and all power is converted into power for Ireland.
Ireland is changing the loose tradition of her wrongs into history and ballad; and though justice, repentance, or retribution may make her cease to need vengeance, she will immortally remember her bondage, her struggles, her glories, and her disasters. Till her suffering ceases that remembrance will rouse her passions and nerve her arm. May she not forgive till she is no longer oppressed; and when she forgives, may she never forget!
Why need we repeat the tale of present wretchedness? Seven millions and a half of us are Presbyterians and Catholics, and our whole ecclesiastical funds go to the gorgeous support of the Clergy of the remaining 800,000, who are Episcopalians. Where else on earth does a similar injury and dishonour exist? Nowhere; ’twas confessed it existed nowhere. Would it weaken the empire to abolish this? Confessedly not, but would give it some chance of holding together. Would it injure Protestantism? You say not. Idle wealth is fatal to a Church, and supremacy bears out every proud and generous convert. Why is it maintained? The answer is directly given—”England (that is, the English aristocracy) is bigoted,” and no Ministry dare give you redress. These are the very words of Captain Rous, the Tory member for Westminster, and the whole House assented to the fact. If you cannot redress—if you will not go into inquiry, lest this redress, so needed by us, should be fatal to your selfish power, then loose your hold of us, and we will redress ourselves; and we will do so with less injury to any class than you possibly could, for a free nation may be generous—a struggling one will not and ought not to be so.
We are most dishonestly taxed for your debts; the fact was not denied—an ominous silence declared that not a halfpenny of that mighty mortgage would be taken off our shoulders.
You raise five millions a year from us, and you spend it on English commissioners, English dockyards, English museums, English ambition, and English pleasures. With an enormous taxation, our public offices have been removed to London, and you threaten to remove our Courts of Justice, and our Lord Lieutenancy, the poor trapping of old nationhood. We have no arsenals, no public employment here; our literary, scientific, and charitable institutions, so bountifully endowed by a Native Legislature, you have forced away, till, out of that enormous surplus revenue raised here, not £10,000 a year comes back for such purposes, while you have heaped hundred upon hundred thousand into the lap of every English institution. For National Education you dribble out £50,000 a year—not enough for our smallest province. Will you redress these things? No, but you boast of your liberality in giving us anything.
“Oh, but you are not overtaxed,” says Peel; “see, your Post-office produces nothing to the revenue.” Ay, Sir, our Post-office, which levies the same rates as the English Post-office, produces nothing; Ireland is too poor to make even a penny-postage pay its own cost. No stronger mark of a stagnant trade could be adduced. “And then we lowered your spirit duty.” Yes you did, because it brought in less than the lower duty. What single tax did you take off, except when it had been raised so high, or the country had declined so low, that it ceased to be productive? You increased our taxation up to the end of the war two and a half times more rapidly than you did your own, and you diminished our taxation after the war thirty times less rapidly.
You have a fleet of steamers now—you had none in 1817, says some pattern of English Senators, whose constituents are bound to subscribe a few school-books for him if they mean to continue him as their delegate.
And my Lord Eliot says our exports and imports have increased. We wish your Lordship would have separate accounts kept that we might know how much. But they have increased—ay, they have; and they are provisions. And our population has increased: and when we had one-half the number of People to feed we sent out a tenth of the provisions we send away now. This is ruin, not prosperity. We had weavers, iron-workers, glass-makers, and fifty other flourishing trades. They sold their goods to Irishmen in exchange for beef and mutton, and bread, and bacon, and potatoes. The Irish provisions were not exported—they were eaten in Ireland. They are exported now—for Irish artisans, without work, must live on the refuse of the soil, and Irish peasants must eat lumpers or starve. Part of the exports go to buy rags and farming tools, which once went for clothes and all other goods to Irish operatives, and the rest goes to raise money to pay absentee rents and imperial taxes. Will you tax our absentees? Will you employ our artisans? Will you abate your taxes, or spend them among us? No; you refuse redress—you refuse inquiry.
Your conquests and confiscations have given us land tenures alien to the country and deadly to the peasant. Will you interfere in property to save him, as you interfered to oppress him? You hint that you might inquire, but you only offered redress in an Arms’ Bill—to prostrate the poor man, to violate the sanctity of his home, to brand him, and leave him at the mercy of his local tyrant.
Will you equalise the franchise, and admit us, in proportion to our numbers, into your Senate, and let us try there for redress? You may inquire, perhaps, some other time; if much pressed, you may consider some increase of the franchise—you decline to open the representation.
And if England will do none of these things, will she allow us, for good or ill, to govern ourselves, and see if we cannot redress our own griefs? “No, never, never,” she says, “though all Ireland cried for it—never! Her fields shall be manured with the shattered limbs of her sons, and her hearths quenched in their blood; but never, while England has a ship or a soldier, shall Ireland be free.”
And this is your answer? We shall see—we shall see!
And now, Englishmen, listen to us! Though you were to-morrow to give us the best tenures on earth—though you were to equalise Presbyterian, Catholic, and Episcopalian—though you were to give us the amplest representation in your Senate—though you were to restore our absentees, disencumber us of your debt, and redress every one of our fiscal wrongs—and though, in addition to all this, you plundered the treasuries of the world to lay gold at our feet, and exhausted the resources of your genius to do us worship and honour—still we tell you—we tell you, in the names of liberty and country—we tell you, in the name of enthusiastic hearts, thoughtful souls, and fearless spirits—we tell you, by the past, the present and the future, we would spurn your gifts, if the condition were that Ireland should remain a province. We tell you, and all whom it may concern, come what may—bribery or deceit, justice, policy, or war—we tell you, in the name of Ireland, that Ireland shall be a Nation!