Speech at the Waterford Hustings, March 4th, 1848.

Mr. Sheriff and gentlemen, electors of the city of Waterford, I stand before you convicted of a most serious crime. I have claimed the representation of my native city; and, my opponents tell me, I have claimed it with an effrontery which can never be forgiven. I, who have stretched out my hand to the Orangemen of Ulster, and from that spot, where the banner of King James was rent by the sword of William, have passionately prayed for the extinction of those feuds which have been transmitted to us through the rancorous blood of five generations.—I, who have presumed to say, that the God, by whose will I breathe, has given to me a mind that should not cringe and crawl along the earth, but should expand and soar, and, in the rapture of its free will, exultingly pursue its own career.—I, who have dared to assert the sovereignty of this mind, and, ambitious to preserve in it the charter and inheritance I had from heaven, have disdained to be the slave of one, whom, were it not an impious perversion of the noblest gift of God, it might have been no ignominy to serve.—I, who have been spurned from the hearse of the Catholic emancipator, and am stained with the blood which his retinue, with such a decent resentment, have filched from his coffin and dashed in my face.—I, who have rushed through this career of criminality, and have thus been soiled and stigmatised, have had the daring to stand here this day, and claim, through your suffrages, an admission to the senate of empire!

This act of mine has been pronounced to be without parallel in the records of the most intemperate presumption, has been so pronounced by those eminent politicians of our city, who so long have swayed its destinies to their own account. Should their censure fail to extinguish me, is there not, in other quarters, an envious ability at work with which I have not strength sufficient to compete? Has not the Loyal National Repeal Association declared against me? And is it possible—possible!—that you will be so degenerate and seditious as to spurn this attempt to tamper with your votes? What, then, inspires me to proceed? Against this sea of troubles, what strength have I to beat my way towards that bold headland, upon which I have sworn to plant the flag I have rescued from the wreck? Weak, reckless, bewildered youth!—with those clouds breaking above my head—with cries of vengeance ringing in my ears—what sign of hope glitters along the waters?

There is a sign of hope—the people are standing on this headland, and they beckon me to advance! Yes, the people are with me in this struggle, and it is this that gives nerve to my arm, and passion to my heart. Whilst they are with me, I will face the worst—I can defy the boldest—I may despise the proudest. You who oppose me, look to the generous and impetuous crowd, in the heart of which I was borne to the steps of this hall; and tell me—in that crowd, do you not find some slight apology for the crime of which, in your impartial judgments, I stand convicted? Does not that honest thrift, that bold integrity, that precipitate enthusiasm, plead in my defence, and, by the decree of the people, has not my crime become a virtue? By this decree, has not the sentence against the culprit, the anarchist, the infidel, been reversed? By this decree, I say, have not these infamous designations been swept away? and here, asserting the independence of the Island, shall I not recognise, in the justice of the people, their title to accept an eminent responsibility—their ability to attain an exalted destination? You say ‘no,’ to all this—you gentlemen of the Corporation and the Repeal news-room. Ah! you are driving the old coach still. You will not give way to modern improvements—you are behind your time most sadly—conservative of error, intolerant of truth. Is it not so? Is not your cry still the hackneyed cry—‘You have differed with O’Connell—you have maligned O’Connell.’

You meet me, gentlemen, with these two accusations, and to these accusations you require an answer. The answer shall be concise and blunt. The first accusation, that I have differed with O’Connell, is honourably true. The second accusation, that I have maligned O’Connell, is malignantly false. It is true that I differed with Mr. O’Connell, and I glory in the act by which I forfeited the confidence of slaves, and won the sanction of independent citizens. I differed with him, for I was conscious of a free soul, and felt that it would be an abdication of existence to consign it to captivity. Was this a crime? Do you curse the man who will not barter the priceless jewel of his soul? To be your favourite—to win your honours—must I be a slave? What! was it for this that you were called forth from the dust upon which you trample? What! was it for this you were gifted with that eternal strength, by which you can triumph over the obscurity of a plebeian birth—by which you can break through the conceits and laws of fashion—by which you can cope with the craft of the thief and the genius of the tyrant—by which you can defy the exactions of penury, and rear a golden prosperity amid the gloom of the garret, and the pestilence of the poorhouse—by which you can step from height to height, and shine far above the calamities with which you struggled, and from which you sprung—by which you can traverse the giddy seas, and be a light and glory to the tribes that sit in darkness and the shadow of death—by which you can mount beyond the clouds, and sweep the silver fields, where the stars fulfil their mysterious missions—by which you can gaze, without a shudder, upon the scythe and shroud of death, and, seeing the grave opened at your feet, can look beyond it, and feel that it is but the narrow passage to a luminous immortality.

What! was it to cramp, to sell, to play the trickster and the trifler with this eternal strength that you were called forth to walk this sphere—to be, for a time, the guest of its bounty and the idolator of its glory? Gentlemen, from this ground I shall not descend, to seek, in little details, the vindication of my difference with Mr. O’Connell. It was my right to differ with him, if I thought him wrong; and upon that right, in the name of truth and freedom, I take my stand. Let no man gainsay that right. It is stamped upon the throne of the everlasting hills, and the hand that strives to blot it out conspires against the dignity of man and the benevolence of God. And yet, were it my desire to play a petty part upon this day—my desire to vindicate the conduct, in which I glory, upon low and shifting grounds—I might tell you, gentlemen of the old school, that in the career of Mr. O’Connell it is easy to find a justification of the ‘insubordination’ you impugn. The Rev. Mr. O’Shea, who I am very happy to perceive in the ‘omnibus box’ on my right—he told you, at the meeting in the Town Hall, on last Monday week, that I had just as much right to differ with Mr. O’Connell, as Mr. O’Connell had to differ with Mr. Grattan.

The difference between Mr. O’Connell and Mr. Grattan occurred in July, 1813. What was Mr. O’Connell at that time? He was a young man—a man who had done little or no service to his country, and he had certainly advanced a very short way towards that commanding position in which we beheld him a few months since. But what of Henry Grattan? Henry Grattan, at that time, was venerable for his years and services. His grey hairs were encircled with a crown of glory, and, as he sat in the Senate Hall of England, men gazed upon him with a noble pity; for in his weak, and pale, and shrivelled form, they beheld the shadow of that power by which, in 1782, the dead came forth, and the sepulchre was clad in beauty—by which the province became a kingdom, and, stirred by his rushing genius, rose from her bed in the ocean, and got nearer to the sun. And did the young O’Connell blast his prospects by his difference with the great Irish citizen? On this account did vulgar tongues—did poisoned pens assail the daring Catholic? For this, was he scoffed at as an infidel—hooted as a traitor to his country—outlawed as the murderer of her deliverer? No. I tell you, gentlemen—you, who are in that inconvenient corner there, and think you represent the city—I tell you this, that public men were more just and chivalrous in the days of Grattan than they are in yours; and if in the war of parties there might have been a keener enmity, there was assuredly less falsehood, and less cant. I am now done with this accusation, and being done with it, I beg leave to tell you, that this is the last time I shall apologise for having refused to be a slave. Call it vanity—call it ingratitude—call it treachery—call it, as your prototype, Justice Dogberry, would have called it—call it house-breaking or flat perjury—call it by any name you please—from henceforth I shall but smile at the intolerant dictation that will utter, and the mischievous credulity that will cheer, an accusation so preposterous and fictitious. Nor is it my intention to touch, in the slightest degree, upon the other counts in the indictment that has been preferred against me. The first count is the only one for which I entertain the least respect, so that I deeply sympathise with the reverend gentleman who has taken such profane and profitless trouble to provoke me. However, if he really desires that I should satisfy him upon those points to which, with such priestly decorum, he has so vehemently referred—I may, perhaps, console him by the assurance that, in the statement of the grounds upon which I seek the representation of this city, that satisfaction may be gained.

This statement will be very brief. I am an enemy of the Legislative Union—an enemy of that Union in every shape and form that it may assume—an enemy of that Union whatever blessing it may bring—an enemy of that Union whatever sacrifice its extinction may require. Maintain the Union, gentlemen, and maintain your beggary. Maintain the Union, and maintain your bankruptcy. Maintain the Union, and maintain your famine. Tolerate the usurpation which the English parliament has achieved, and you tolerate the power in which your resources, your energies, your institutions are absorbed. Tolerate the rigour of the English Conservatives—their proclamations and state prosecutions—tolerate the English Whigs—their smiles and compliments—their liberal appointments, and modified coercion bills—and you tolerate the two policies through which the statesmen of England have alternately managed, ruled, and robbed this country.

On the morning of the 18th of October, in the year 1172, upon the broad waters of our native Suir, the spears and banners of a royal pirate were glittering in the sun. Did the old city of the Ostmen send forth a shout of defiance as the splendid pageant moved up the stream, and flung its radiance on our walls? No; from these walls no challenge was hurled at the foe; but, from the tower of Reginald, the grey eye of a stately soldier glistened as they came, and whilst he waved his hand, and showed the keys of the city he had won, the name of Strongbow was heard amid the storm of shouts that rocked the galleys to and fro. He was the first adventurer that set his heel on Irish soil in the name of England; and he—the sleek, the cautious, and the gallant Strongbow—was the type and herald of that plague with which this Island has been cursed for seven desolating centuries. The historian Holinshed has said of him, that ‘what he could not compass by deeds, he won by good works and gentle speeches.’ Do you not find in this short sentence an exact description of that despotism which has held this Island from the days of Strongbow, the archer, down to our own—the days of Clarendon, the green-crop lecturer. By force or fraud—by steel or gold—by threat or smile—by liberal appointments or speedy executions—by jail deliveries or special commissions—by dinners in the Park or massacres at Clontarf—by the craft of the thief or the genius of the tyrant—they have held this Island ever since that morning in October, 1172; seducing those whom they could not terrify—slaying those whom they could neither allure nor intimidate. Thus may the history of the English connection be told—a black, a boisterous night, in which there shone but one brief interval of peace and lustre!

Friends and foes!—you who cheer, and you who hiss me (Cries from the Old Ireland party—‘No one hissed you.’). Well, then, you who cheer, and you who curse me—sons of the one soil—inheritors of the one destiny—look back to that interval, and, for an instant, contemplate its glory. Now, you who quake and quiver when I insist upon the right of this country to be held, governed, and defended by its own citizens, and by them alone—you who are so industrial in your projects, and so constitutional in your efforts—what do you say to your fathers, the actors in that scene? Conservatives of Waterford, who were the officers in the Irish army that occupied our Island onthe 16th of April, 1782? Call the muster-roll, and at the head of the regiments levied in Waterford, the Alcocks, the Carews, the Boltons, the Beresfords, will appear. And will you, gentlemen—the grand jurors of the city and the county—forswear the right of which they were the champions? Will that which was loyalty in the fathers be sedition in the sons? Time does not change virtue into vice. Do not scruple, then, to revive the sentiments of those whose name you bear, and to whose principles—if you have any pride of ancestry—you should ambitiously adhere. You have stood aloof too long from the people, of whose integrity in this contest you have had so startling an attestation; and deterred by vague fears and vaguer prejudices, you have leant most cringingly upon England, instead of trusting manfully to yourselves. Identify yourselves with the hopes, the ideas, the labours of your country; make the country your own, and make it worthy of your pride. Form for the future no mean estimate of its powers; assign to it no narrow space for its career; open to it the widest field—conceive for it the boldest destiny.

Repealers of Waterford—you who oppose me—is your resentment towards me (Great confusion, in which the rest of the sentence was lost). Well, then, is ‘Old Ireland’ still your cry? Old Ireland, indeed! I am not against Old Ireland: but I am against the vices that have made Ireland old. The enmity I bear to the Legislative Union is not more bitter than the enmity I bear to those practices and passions from which that Union derives its ruinous vitality. Impatient for the independence of my country—intolerant of every evil that averts the blessing—I detest the bigot, and despise the place-beggar. Who stands here to bless the bigot or to cheer the place-beggar? They are the worst enemies of Ireland. The rancour of the one, and the venality of the other, constitute the strongest forces by which this Island is fettered in subjection. Down with the bigot! he who would sacrifice the nation to the supremacy of his sect. Down with the bigot! he would persecute the courage which had truth for its inspiration, and had humanity for its cause. Down with the bigot! he would banish the genius which, in the distribution of its fruits, was generous to all creeds; and in the circle of its light would embrace every altar in the land. Down with the place-beggar! he would traffic in a noble cause, and beg a bribe in the name of liberty. Down with the place-beggar! he would fawn in private on the men whom he scourged in public, and with his services sustain the usurpation his invectives had assailed. Down with the place-beggar! he would thrive by traitorism; and, in the enjoyment of his salary, he would spurn the people upon whose shoulders he had mounted to that eminence, from which he had beckoned to the minister, and said—‘Look here—a slave for hire—a slave of consequence—a valuable slave—the people have confided in me.’ You have now some notion of the principles upon which I stand.

Do you scout, detest these principles? Do you think them intolerant, profane, and impure? Declare your opinion, and decide my fate. If you declare against my principles, you declare against the claim I have this day urged. I can borrow no great name to hide my own insignificance; I have been the servant of no government—the follower of no house. Without any of those great influences to assist me, upon which public men usually depend, I flung myself into this struggle, trusting to the power of truth and the enthusiasm of the people. It was a daring act, yet there is a wisdom sometimes in audacity. There was a bold spirit slumbering amongst you—it required but one bold act alone to startle it into a resolute activity. I am guilty of that act, and I await the penalty. Punish me, if you desire to retain your past character. Preserve the famous motto of our ancient municipality free from stain. As it was won by a slavish loyalty, so maintain it by a sordid patriotism. Spurn me! I have been jealous of my freedom, and in the pursuit of liberty I have scorned to work in shackles. Spurn me! I have fought my own way through the storm of politics, and have played, I think, no coward’s part upon the way. Spurn me! I loathe the gold of England, and deem them slaves who would accept it. Spurn me! I will not beg a bribe for any of you—I will negotiate no pedlar’s bargain between the minister and the people. Spurn me! I have raised my voice against the tricks and vices of Irish politics, and have preached the attainment of a noble end by noble means. Spurn me! I have claimed the position and the powers which none amongst you, save the tame and venal, will refuse to demand, and in doing this I have acted as became a free, unpensioned citizen.