Speech in Conciliation Hall, June 15th, 1846, upon the accession of the Whigs to Office.
We are told, sir, by the London papers, that the days of the Conservative ministry are numbered. The seals of office, it is said, will soon be held by a Whig Premier, and with the change of power, it is surmised, that a change of policy with regard to Ireland will take place. Whether that surmise be true or false, I know not; but this I know, that whatever statesmen rule the empire, whatever policy prevails, the principles of this Association are immutable, and, amid the clash and shiftings of the imperial factions, will remain unshaken. Sir, I state this boldly; for the suspicion is abroad that the national cause will be sacrificed to the Whigs, and that the people, who are now striding on to freedom, will be purchased back into factious vassalage. The Whigs, themselves, calculate upon your apostacy — the Conservatives predict it. They cannot believe that you are in earnest — at least it seems difficult to convince them of your truth. On the hustings you must dispel their incredulity, read them an honest lesson, and vindicate your characters. On their return to power, the Whigs, I trust, shall find, that in their absence, you have become a reformed people — that you have abjured the errors of faction, and have been instructed in the truths of patriotism.
They shall find, I trust, that a new era has here commenced — that you have been roused to a sense of your inherent power, and, with the conviction that you possess an ability equal to the sustainment of a bold position, you have vowed never more to act the Sepoy for English faction. To their reproach, sir, it must be said, that the people of this country have been too long the credulous menials of English Liberalism — dedicating to foreign partisanship those fine energies which should have been exclusively reserved for the duties of Irish citizenship. Till now you have had no faith in the faculties of your country. You implored from reform clubs in London that which a free senate in your old capital could alone confer. Upon the hustings your tone was English, not Irish. You stood by the promises of Russell — you foreswore the principles of Grattan. You shouted for municipal reform — you forgot your manufactures. You cried out for free trade — having no very important exchange of commodities to promote. You petitioned for a supply of franchises, that Irish Radicalism might grow strong, when you should have demanded back those rights which would have made the Irish nation great. The aristocrat of Bedford marshalled you against the plebeian of Tamworth, when, lifting up a distinct flag, you should have marched and struck against them both. Sir, it was full time that this should cease, and that the spirit of the country should manifest itself in an independent policy. Let me not be told that the Whigs were our benefactors, and deserve our gratitude. They were, indeed, the benefactors of “moderate” Catholics and “liberal” Protestants, but the Catholic democracy and the Protestant aristocracy were alike neglected and insulted by them. What memorial, may I ask, have they left behind them that claims our respect, and would win us to their ranks?
It is true their appointments were, for the most part, judicious. There were honourable men elevated to the bench during their administration — honourable men, I grant you — but men “whose overtopping eminence,” as our illustrious friend, Thomas Davis, has written, “was such as made their acceptance of a judgeship no promotion.” And I believe, sir, there are few, if any, instances on record of partisan prejudices mingling with the dispensation of justice whilst they held office. Upon this question, however, I will not dwell, for it is a debatable question in this country, and, if discussed, might revive the antipathies of party. But I look beyond the Queen’s Bench, beyond the court of petty sessions, beyond the police barrack, beyond the glebe house, and I demand, what was the condition of the people, what was the condition of the country, during the reign of the late Whig government? Your commerce, did that thrive? — your manufactures, were they encouraged? — your fisheries, were they protected? — your waste lands — they are 2,000,000 acres — were they reclaimed? How fared the Irish artisan — how fared the Irish peasant? The one pined, as he yet pines, in your beggared cities — the other starved, as he yet starves, upon your fruitful soil. Catholic barristers, who made reform speeches at Morpeth dinners, and quoted the Earl Grey and the Edinburgh Review, at anti-Tory demonstrations — these gentlemen came in for silk gowns, and other genteel perquisites; but you — you, the sons of toil, “the men of horny hand and melting heart” — you, the thousands, knew no change, Poorlaw commissioners were appointed — they were Englishmen and Scotchmen, for the most part.
They came in for large salaries, and grew opulent upon their mission of charity. In this case, the indigence of Lazarus was the very making of Dives. The poorhouses were built, and were soon stocked with vermined rags, and broken hearts — with orphaned childhood, fevered manhood, and desolate old age. Whilst these coarse specimens of the Tudor Gothic were being thus filled, your Custom-house was drained; and now it stands upon your silent quay, like one of those noble merchant houses that crumble to the shores of the Adriatic, telling us that —
“Venice lost and won,
Her thirteen-hundred years of freedom done,
Sinks, like a sea-weed, into whence she rose.”
Sir, I have been told that the Marquis of Normanby was a true nobleman. I have been told that he was a man of enlightened views and generous impulses — that he was just, benevolent, and chivalrous. Were we English, and were Ireland the predominant power, I might, perhaps, desire no other viceroy. We being Irish — this land being Ireland — I demand an Irish viceroy for the Irish court. The Geraldines have an older title to the Castle than the House of Phipps. Associated with the name of Normanby, I know there are many brilliant reminiscences. Beauty and Fashion, deputy-lieutenants who propose Whig candidates at county elections, a swarm of expectant barristers, perhaps a solicitor or two — men of “moderate” politics and “enlightened” tendencies — would vote him back again. In his time there were gala days at the Castle — many a gay carnival — many a dazzling dance in St. Patrick’s Hall. But were there bright eyes, and happy hearts, and busy hands in the tenements of the Liberty? Society — the perfumed society of your squires! — was happy in those days, and loved the amiable Whig government, and would, no doubt, in gratitude for the viceregal balls at which it flounced and whirled, vote for Whig candidates to-morrow.
But, sir, the society that is not exempted from the primeval curse — the society that wears out strong sinews to earn the privilege of bread — the society that knows no day of rest, no day of joy, but God’s own holiday — that day on which He bids the toiler go forth and soothe his sorrows amid the glories of His creation — that day on which many a worn hand may wreathe a garland of flowers that has been weaving a crown of thorns the live-long week — the society that decks out fashion, that rears up the mansions of the rich, and by which alone, if there was danger on the coast to-morrow, this land could be furnished with a stalwart guard for its defence — this, the elder, the stronger, the nobler society, has no such memories — no such incentives to subserviency. Roused from the slumber into which the insidious eloquence and plausible philosophy of liberalism had lulled them, the people have started up; and now, for the first time, see before them a country of which they had not dreamt, and a new destiny revealing itself to them, like the sun from behind their old hills, and that destiny expanding into glory, as it mounts the heaven, and settles high above the Island. No, sir, the people of Ireland can never more be duped into subserviency by assurances of sympathy, and promises of redress. We have become incredulous of party — we distrust, despise, denounce it. We recognise, at last, the truth of a maxim uttered many years ago by Swift, that “party is the madness of the many for the gain of the few;” and we have learned to regard a Whig government in Ireland as little else than a state relief committee for political mendicants, most of whom are political impostors.
Nor do we forget the Ebrington manifesto. Sir, that was a coarse insult to the manhood of the country, and the manhood of the country must resent it — resent it by being honest, for honesty deals sweeping vengeance on the Whigs. You recollect that attempt of theirs to purchase up, in the market of the Castle, the fresh strength, the glowing genius, the bold enthusiasm of the country. They did not address themselves to the old men of Ireland — to those whose faltering footsteps were waking the echoes of the grave, and who, in a few years, at most, would be laid to rest among their fathers. No, they addressed the youth of Ireland, knowing well that the youth of a country are the trustees of her prosperity — the praetorians of her freedom. To them they held out the golden chalice of the Treasury corruptionists, that so the young, free soul of Ireland might drink, and having drunk, sink down for ever, a diseased and pensioned slave.
“Young men,” said they, “a long life is before you — the luxuries of office — the privileges of place. To taste the former, to acquire the latter, you must qualify by recreancy, and befit yourselves by servitude. Renounce, then, the manly duties, reject the pure honours of honest citizenship — cease to be the unpaid servants of your country — become the hirelings of party. You are young Irishmen, and have read the history of your country. Disclaim, then, the doctrines of Grattan, the integrity of Flood; accept the maxims, emulate the perfidies of Castlereagh and Fitzgibbon. You are scholars, and have read the history of Greece and Rome. From the story of Sparta learn nothing but the obedience of the Helots. From the pictured page of Livy learn, if you like, the ambition of the Caesars, but shun the stern incorruptibility of the Gracchii. Thus will you climb to power, gain access to the viceregal table, and be invited to masquerades at Windsor. Thus, if your ambition be parliamentary, will you qualify for Melbourne Port, or some other convenient Whig borough; and when, at length, removed from that country whose wretchedness would have been to you a constant pang, and whose politics would have been an incessant drain upon your resources, and when mingling in the lordly society of London, or sitting on the Treasury bench beside your patrician benefactors, oh! you will bless the Government that patronised servility, and thank your God that you have had a country to sell.” But, sir, it is said that a great change has taken place in English politics, and that the Whigs have been converted to the cause of Ireland. A very recent conversion, it must be admitted, if it has occurred, for I hold in my hand the letter addressed by Viscount Melbourne to the secretary of the Association a few weeks since. It is well to read it now: —
“SOUTH STREET, February 24th, 1846.
“Sir, I beg leave to acknowledge your letter of the 20th inst., and to inform you, in reply, that it is my decided opinion that the measure now before the House of Lords, which has for its object the more effectual prevention and the more certain discovery of the frightful crimes which prevail in many parts of Ireland, has clearly been delayed too long, and cannot now be pressed with too much celerity.
“I remain, sir, your faithful and obedient servant,
“To the Secretary of the Loyal National Repeal Association, Ireland.”
Forget those sentiments if you can — forgive them if you like — breathing, as they do, a spirit of the most dogged despotism, and then believe that the rumoured conversion of the Whigs is sincere. Believe it, and forget that, in the House of Commons, Lord John Russell and his colleagues voted for the first reading of the Coercion Bill — voted against the liberty of Ireland, to comply with “the usual custom of the house.” Believe it, and forget, that this time last year their most eloquent confederate announced from his seat in parliament that the price of your independence should be a civil war. But, sir, I have to apologise. After all, this is not the tone in which I should address a people who have vowed, before man and God, to raise up a nation here in these western waters, and to make that nation as free as the freest that now bears a flag upon the sea, and guards a senate upon the land. It was not to recede and apostatise that you advanced so far, and believe in a new fate. It was not for this that you evoked the memories of a great event — that you looked back to the church of Dungannon, and embraced the principles, though you could not unsheathe the swords of the patriot soldiers of ’82. It was not for this that you gathered in thousands upon the hill of Tara, and hailed your leader upon the Rath of Mullagh- mast, as the Romans did Rienzi in the Palace of the Capitol. There you swore that Ireland should be called once more a “free nation” — that she should have a senate to protect — a commerce to enrich her. After this, associate with the Whigs; lend them your voices — “your most sweet voices;” let your demands dwindle down to their powers of concession; unite with them in their oppression of the Orangemen, who are your brothers; give over your notions about self-government — those notions are very absurd; go back to Precursorship — it’s just the thing — it’s very genteel; don’t say a word about Irish artists and the encouragement of Irish genius; back the poor law commissioners, and sustain the new police; be practical — that is, be partisan; be sensible — that is, cease to be honest; be rational — that is, conceive a very poor opinion of your country; fall as Athens fell, whose soul
“No foreign foe could quell,
Till from itself it fell –
Till self-abasement paved the way
To villain bonds and despot sway.”
Thus will your country win the eloquent sympathies of Whig orators, and, “when the times improve,” the kind consideration of Whig statesmen; but, mind you, America will indict her as a swindler, and France placard her as a coward. As I said before, I should not pursue this strain, knowing, as I do, your determination, knowing that you would repel the man who, in this Hall, would vote a compromise, and beat down the traitor, whoever he might be. I would not have done so but the report was abroad that our demands would moderate with the advent of the Whigs, and that the spirit of this Association would be affected by the transition of patronage from one English faction to another. Our future acts, I have no doubt, will teach our opponents the error of this report, and prove to them that we are in earnest, that we mean what we say, and that out of this contest we will not back, come what may. The next elections will prove to them that we have gone into this struggle with a firm purpose to fight it out to the last, and make a good end of it, with the help of God. The cry upon the hustings must be “Repeal,” and nothing else. The members of this Association, the people of Ireland, are pledged to nothing else; and from those hustings, I trust, there will be heard many an honest shout of “Down with the Whigs — down with corruption.”
Let the people look out, select their representatives in time, and be assured they are true men. They have been deceived before. At former elections men have not hesitated to take pledges which they had no intention to redeem — men who, even in the English Commons have been the eloquent advocates of that measure
which they now do not blush to designate a “splendid phantom.” Beware of Whig candidates. Accept no man in whose integrity you do not place full reliance, and whose heart, you may have reason to suspect, is not thoroughly in the cause he professes to uphold. Demand from those gentlemen who solicit your votes the most explicit declaration — plain, straightforward, conclusive declarations. Vote for no man who is not an enrolled member of this Association, and who will not pledge himself to you to work here in this Hall, and vote hereafter in the English Commons, for the unconditional Repeal of the Legislative Union.
I know, sir, that to pursue this line of conduct manfully, a sacrifice of personal interest — more than all, a sacrifice of private feeling — may be required from some of us. But the cause is worthy of the most severe sacrifice which men could undergo. I tell you candidly, if my father was in parliament, and had up to this period refused to join this Association, were he at the next election to present himself to his constituency and ask their votes again, I would be the first to vote against him. It is better that the hearts of a few should be pained, than that the great heart of the nation should be broken. Hereafter, for whatever we may endure — and as yet we have suffered nothing — we shall receive an ample recompense. For myself, and for those with whom I most associate, I can answer to the country. If we, who have been suspected for our honesty, and censured for our zeal — we, who will love the country, though the country may not love us — though the country may not love us – if we be not called away in the morning of our life, like our illustrious friend, Thomas Davis, our prophet and our guide — he whose integrity we shall ever strive to emulate though his labours we may not equal — he whom it is but just to number amongst those of whom a glorious poet has written —
“That as soon
As they had touched the earth with native flame,
Fled back like eagles to their living noon-“
If we be not called away like as he has been — if it be our fate to live and witness the triumph, toiling for which he died, then shall we receive our recompense — a free, young nation will look upon us in her glory, and bid us be glad of heart amongst her free sons — and when, at length, our time hath come, we shall sleep not in the Desert, but in the Promised Land.