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From United Irishman, (Vo. 16), 27th May, 1848.
Head Police Office, Dublin, Tuesday, 23rd May, 1848.
I seize on the hour allotted me, between my committal and my stand in the dock, to address this letter to you, to prepare you for the course of tyranny to which you are about to be subjected, and to state my notion fully of the duties there anent, which people worthy of the name of citizens – which men who will not forswear their manhoods – should be prepared to discharge.
Citizens, nine months ago, a great rebel against imperial rule, against the rule of foreigners over lands that do not belong to them, against the thraldom of armed aristocrats over unarmed democracy, Pope Pius the IX, made himself known in Rome. Religion consecrated his national love and his determination to prove it on the battle-field, and, in the name of the Most High, he armed the lowly unarmed, and pointed to the black eagle of Austria, with wing of gloom outspread, and bloody beak, sweeping from the Alps all over Italy.
Then began a course of thought and action of tyrants against peoples, and peoples against tyrants, which has spread throughout the heart of every land, like an electric flood of truth and heroism, tumbling thrones and high places, and convulsing democracy into the life that seemed gone for ever, as it swept along.
It began at Ferrara – there Austrian soldiery were sent to coerce, insult, and annoy the Italians. Citizens were arrested, and sent to the guard-house, and otherwise treated with indignity. The houses of the people were insulted – their persons insulted – their families insulted. They were forbidden to walk their own streets; and when they attempted to do so, dispersed, or attacked.
Thus began this great European struggle between tyrants and their slaves – and now, in Ferrara there is no Austrian eagle – no insulting soldier in foreign uniform to scald the eye of an Italian son. For the Ferrarese, driven at last to defend their lives, and honour rose, with the Romans at their back, and across the Po the Austrians columns rolled, broken and defeated.
So, too, in Milan. The Milanese, after thirty years’ tame and quiet moral-force submission, were at least coerced for their very manhoods – for the honour of their wives and daughters – for the security of their homes, for their very lives, to stand at bay against their tyrants. They were unarmed – they had been disarmed – they were not like you, fully warned of the necessity of preparation, and permitted to prepare in peace and quiet.
But unarmed as they were – unprepared as they were – strong only in the wrongs inflicted on them, and their passion of right – without pikes, or guns, or ammunition, rose in their native city, and for five days and nights fought every alley and street inch by inch, and conquered. Then again in Palermo – the same arrests, insults, coercion – the same assiduous tyranny, till it reached its limit; and then, too, the Palermitans prayed to Heaven, made one bold struggle and conquered.
Since they resolved to die like men rather than submit to insult, the “golden link” of Sicily has been snapped – the Bourbon despot of the “united kingdom” has no united kingdom to be despot over more; and Sicily under native rule is fast emerging from starvation, disease, and imbecility, into plenty, life, and strength.
In Messina and Syracuse, there shall be no more starving, ill-clad artisans – in the fair plan of Enna no more desolate farmers – no more wan, weeping women; but happiness and comfort for toiling industry, and the sturdy independence of the freeman on his own sod, and the blessings which Liberty gives to men who prove their manhood by their blood.
I need not rehearse how this glorious stream of liberty has passed from the Papal throne, and worked its way through France, and Germany, and Austria – how Paris piled the glorious barricade, and the women of Berlin headed their unarmed brothers, and the Viennese burghers shot down the mercenaries of their tyrant. It is enough to remember these things – to remember that such is the only true “open and advised” way of reply to tyranny, for which tyranny cares a straw – to remember that every system of coercion, insult, despotism, and violence, gathers strength from impunity – grows day by day more nefarious and universal the longer it is submitted to – is easiest met and crushed at its beginning, and if not met, will continue in its ills, increasing hourly till the last sham of human liberty, the last bare claim to life, or thought, or action, to security in our persons, or homes, or families, is denied, defied, and trampled on – as it ought to be, if men will submit to it.
The trial to which all of the other cities of Europe have been subjected is now coming on you. While the rest of Ireland suffered under the famine of ’47, under the brutalities of poor-houses and their officers, of landlords and their officers, you, closed up in this city, which possesses nothing of a capital but the name, turned deafly from the groans and the agonies of your countrymen.
Little you knew of their sufferings; but now, on your own heads comes, in a more physical shape, oppression, ignominy, and outrage. You see one of yourselves, a citizen, arrested for writing the truth – you see the jury-panel deliberately and systematically packed against him – you see every preparation made for his certain destruction which deceit can plan and tyranny execute.
Should he be convicted, and left in the hands of is enemies, a weapon is then tried and proved, which can next be used against any of you. Nor has tyranny stayed at this: we are forbidden to walk our own streets, by a police ukase – by a law enacted by his Majesty, Colonel Brown, by and with the consent of Lord Clarendon and the police inspectors, in conspiracy assembled.
And for trampling on and defying that, I am here in custody now. For not trampling on and defying it, some thirty of you were taken into custody on Friday night last, while peaceably walking the streets of your own proper business. In fact, a man of weak nerve cannot walk the streets of this city. Go where he will, there is nothing but files drawn up, and sabres glancing, and horse-police, and dragoons, whom, with as many pikemen, I could sweep away, like grass before the scythe.
Licentiousness, too, is at work: but last night, I read in the Freeman here before me, five “officers” attempted to rape the servant of one of our Confederates, smashed his doors, and violated his house. Add to this, the fever of excitement – the terror of the timid, and of women – the stoppage of business – and that silent, stolid awe, which you all feel, and which presages convulsion; and I warn you that this state of things must, for all our sakes, be ended.
And ended it shall be. Better, far, a day of what you call anarchy – which I call the first day of order that for half a century has interrupted the peace of tyranny, the silence of outrage, and frightful calm of despotism – than years, or weeks, or minutes, more of this.
T. DEVIN REILLY.