Speech in Conciliation Hall, February 16th, 1846.
Sir, we have pledged ourselves never to accept the Union — to accept the Union upon no terms — nor any modification of the Union. It ill becomes a country like ours — a country with an ancient fame — a country that gave light to Europe whilst Europe’s oldest State of this day was yet an infant in civilisation and in arms — a country that has written down great names upon the brightest page of European literature — a country that has sent orators into the senate whose eloquence, to the latest day, will inspire free sentiments, and dictate bold acts — a country that has sent soldiers into the field whose courage and whose honour it will ever be our duty to imitate — a country whose sculptors rank high in Rome, and whose painters have won for Irish genius a proud pre-eminence even in the capital of the stranger — a country whose musicians may be said to stand this day in glorious rivalship with those of Italy, and whose poets have had their melodies re-echoed from the most polished courts of Europe to the loneliest dwellings in the deep forests beyond the Mississippi — it ill becomes a country so distinguished and respectable to serve as the subaltern of England, qualified as she is to take up an eminent position, and stand erect in the face of Europe. It is hers to command, for she possesses the materials of manly power and stately opulence. Education is abroad, and her people are being tutored in the arts and virtues of an enlightened manhood. They are being taught how to enjoy, and how to preserve, the beatitude of freedom.
A spirit of brotherhood is alive, and breathing through the land. Old antipathies are losing ground — traditional distinctions of sect and party are being now effaced. Irrespective of descent or creed, we begin at last to appreciate the abilities and virtues of all our fellow- countrymen. We now look into history with the generous pride of the nationalist, not with the cramped prejudice of the partisan. We do homage to Irish valour, whether it conquers on the walls of Derry or capitulates with honour before the ramparts of Limerick; and, sir, we award the laurel to Irish genius, whether it has lit its flame within the walls of old Trinity or drawn its inspiration from the sanctuary of Saint Omer’s. Acting in this spirit, we shall repair the errors and reverse the mean condition of the past. If not, we perpetuate the evil that has for so many years consigned this country to the calamities of war and the infirmities of vassalage. “We must tolerate each other,” said Henry Grattan, the inspired preacher of Irish nationality — he whose eloquence, as Moore has described it, was the very music of Freedom — “We must tolerate each other, or we must tolerate the common enemy.”
After years of social disorder, years of detestable recrimination, between factions, and provinces, and creeds, we are on the march to freedom. A nation, organised and disciplined, instructed and inspired, under the guidance of wise spirits, and in the dawning light of a glorious future, makes head against a powerful supremacy. On the march let us sustain a firm, a gallant, and a courteous bearing. Let us avoid all offence to those who pass us by; and, by rude affronts, let us not drive still further from our ranks those who at present decline to join. If aspersed, we must not stop to retaliate. With proud hearts let us look forward to the event that will refute all calumnies — that will vindicate our motives and recompense our labours. An honourable forbearance towards those who censure us, a generous respect for those who differ from us, will do much to diminish the difficulties that impede our progress. Let us cherish, and, upon every occasion, manifest an anxiety for the preservation of the rights of all our fellow-countrymen — their rights as citizens— their municipal rights — the privileges which their rank in society has given them — the position which their wealth has purchased or their education has conferred — and we will in time, and before long, efface the impression that we seek for Repeal with a view to crush those rights, to erect a Church-ascendancy, to injure property, and create a slave-class.
But, sir, whilst we thus act towards those who dissent from the principles we profess, let us not forget the duties we owe each other. The goodwill it becomes us to evince towards our opponents, the same should we cultivate amongst ourselves. Above all, let us cherish, and in its full integrity maintain, the right of free discussion. With his views identified with ours upon the one great question, let us not accuse of treason to the national cause the associate who may deem this measure advisable or that measure inexpedient. Upon subordinate questions — questions of detail — there must naturally arise in this assembly a difference of opinion. If views adverse to the majority be entertained, we should- solicit their exposition, and meet them by honest argument. If the majority rule, let the minority be heard. Toleration of opinion will generate confidence amongst all classes, and lay the sure basis of national independence. But, sir, whilst we thus endeavour wisely to conciliate, let us not, to the strongest foe, nor in the most tempting emergency, weakly capitulate.
A decisive attitude — an unequivocal tone — language that cannot be construed by the English press into the renunciation or the postponement of our claim — these should be the characteristics of this assembly at the present crisis, if we desire to convince the opponents of our freedom that our sentiments are sincere and our vow irrevocable. Let earnest truth, stern fidelity to principle, love for all who bear the name of Irishmen, sustain, ennoble, and immortalise this cause. Thus shall we reverse the dark fortunes of the Irish race, and call forth here a new nation from the ruins of the old. Thus shall a parliament moulded from the soil, racy of the soil, pregnant with the sympathies and glowing with the genius of the soil, be here raised up. Thus shall an honourable kingdom be enabled to fulfil the great ends that a bounteous Providence hath assigned her — which ends have been signified to her in the resources of her soil and the abilities of her sons.