From Report from the Committee of Secrecy, of the House of Commons in Ireland by Lord Castlereagh. The text has been rendered into modern English.
The following Paper was circulated in Dublin in the month of June 1791, and contains the original Design of that Association which was instituted in the Month of December following, under the name of the Society of United Irishmen.
IDEM SENTIRE, DICERE, AGERE.
It is proposed, that at this conjecture a Society shall be instituted in this city, having much of the secrecy, and somewhat of the ceremonial attached to Freemasonry; with so much secrecy as may communicate curiosity, uncertainty, and expectation, to the minds of surrounding men; with so much impressive and affecting ceremony in all its internal economy, as without impending real business, may strike the soul through the senses, and addressing the whole Man, may animate his philosophy by the energy of his passions.
Secrecy is expedient and necessary; it will make the bond of union more cohesive, and the spirit of this union more ardent and more condensed; it will envelope this dense flame with a cloud of gloomy ambiguity, that will not only facilitate its own agency, but will at the same time confound and terrify its enemies by their ignorance of the design, the extent, the direction, or the consequences. It will throw a veil over those individuals whose professional prudence might make them wish to lie concealed, until a manifestation of themselves became absolutely necessary. And lastly, secrecy is necessary, because it is by no means certain that a country so great a stranger to itself as Ireland, where the North and the South, and the East and the West, meet to wonder at each other, is yet prepared for the adoption of one profession of Political Faith, while there may be individuals from each of these quarters ready to adopt such a profession, and to propagate it with the best abilities, when necessary – with their Blood.
Our Provinces are perfectly ignorant of each other; – our Island is connected; we ourselves are insulated; and the distinctions of rank, of property, of religious persuasion, have hitherto been not merely lines of difference, but brazen walls of separation. We are separate nations met and fettled together, not mingled, but convened; an incoherent mass of dissimilar materials, uncemented, unconsolidated, like the image which Nebuchadnezzar saw with a head of fine gold, legs of iron, and feet of clay; parts that do not cleave to one another.
In the midst of an island, where Manhood has met and continues to meet with such severe humiliation, where selfish men, or classes of men, have formed such malignant conspiracy against Public Good, let one benevolent, beneficent conspiracy arise, one Plot of Patriots pledged by solemn adjuration to each other in the service of the People – the PEOPLE, in the largest sense of that momentous word. Let the cement of this Constitutional Compact be a principle of such strong attraction, as completely to overpower all accidental and temporary repulsions that take place between real Irishmen, and thus to consolidate the scattered and shifting land of Society into an adhesive and immoveable Caisson, sunk beneath the dark and troubled waters. It is by wandering from the few plain and simple principles of Political Faith that our Politics, like our Religion, has become Preaching, not Practice, Words, not Works.
A Society, such as this, will disclaim those party appellations which seem to pale the human heart into petty compartments and parcel out into Sects and Sections, Common Sense, Common Honesty, and Common Weal. As little will it affect any speculative, unimpassioned, quiescent benevolence. It will not call itself a Whig Club, or a Revolution Society. It will not ground itself on a name indicative of a party, or an event well enough in the circumstances and in the season. It will not be an Aristocracy affecting the language of Patriotism, the rival of Despotism, for its own sake, nor its irreconcilable enemy, for the sake of us all.
It will not, by views merely retrospective, stop the march of mankind, or force them back into the lanes and alleys of their ancestors. It will have an eye provident and prospective, a reach and amplitude of conception commensurate to the progressive diffusion of knowledge, and at the same time a promptitude in execution requisite in a life like this, so short and so fragile, in a nation like this, so passive and so procrastinating. Let its name be the IRISH BROTHERHOOD. Let its general aim be to make the light of philanthropy, a pale and ineffectual light, converge, and by converging kindle into ardent, energic, enthusiastic love for Ireland; that genuine unadulterated enthusiasm which descends from a luminous head to a burning heart, and impels the spirit of man to exertions greatly good, or unequivocally great. For this Society is not to rest satisfied in drawing speculative plans of reform and improvement, but to be practically busied about the means of accomplishment. Were the hand of Locke to hold from Heaven a scheme of government most perfectly adapted to the nature and capabilities of the Irish nation, it would drop to the ground a mere founding scroll, were there no other means of giving it effect than its intrinsic excellence. All true Irishmen agree in what ought to be done, but how to get it done is the question. This Society is likely to be a means the most powerful for the promotion of a great end – what END?
THE RIGHTS OF MAN IN IRELAND, the greatest happiness of the greatest number in this island, the inherent and indefeasible claims of every free nation, to rest in this nation – the will and the power to be happy – to pursue the Common Weal as an individual pursues his private welfare, and to stand in insulated independence, an imperatorial People. To gain a knowledge of the real state of this heterogenous country, to form a summary of the national will and pleasure in points most interesting to national happiness, and when such a summary is formed, to put this Doctrine as speedily as may be into Practice, will be the purpose of this central society, or lodge, from which other lodges in the different towns will radiate.
THE GREATEST HAPPINESS OF THE GREATEST NUMBER – On the rock of this principle let this society rest; by this let it judge and determine every political question, and whatever is necessary for this end, let it not be accounted hazardous, but rather our interest, our duty, our glory, and our common religion. The rights of Men are the rights of God, and to vindicate the one is to maintain the other. We must be free in order to serve him whose service is perfect freedom.
Let every Member wear, day and night, an Amulet round his neck, containing the great principle which unites the Brotherhood, in letters of gold, on a ribbon, striped with all the original colours, and enclosed in a sheath of white silk, to represent the pure union of the mingled rays, and the abolition of all superficial distinctions, all colours and shades of difference, for the sake of one illustrious end. Let this Amulet of Union, faith and honour, depend from the neck, and be bound about the body next to the skin and close to the heart.
This is enthusiasm – It is so; and who that has a spark of Hibernicism in his nature, would not feel it kindle into a flame of generous enthusiasm? Who, that has a drop of sympathy in his heart, when he looks around him, and sees how happiness is heaped up in mounds, and how misery is diffused and divided among the million, does not exclaim, Alas! for the suffering, and Oh! for the power to redress it? And who is there that has enthusiasm sufficient to make an exclamation, would not combine with others as honest as himself to make the will live in the act, and to swear, WE WILL REDRESS IT – Who is there? Who?
The first business of the Brotherhood will be to form a transcript, or digest, of the doctrine which they mean to subscribe, to uphold, to propagate, and reduce to practice. It is time for Ireland to look her fortune in the face, not with turbulent ostentation, but with fixed resolution to live and die Freemen. Let then those questions be agitated and answered fully and fairly which have been wilfully concealed from us by interested persons and parties, and which appear terrible only by being kept in the dark. Always armed with this principle, that it is the duty of the people to establish their rights, this Society will carry it along with them in their course, as the Sybil did the branch of gold, to avert or to disperse every vain fear and every unreal terror.
What are the means of procuring such a reform in the constitution as may secure to the people their rights most effectually and most speedily?
What is the plan of reform most suited to this country?
Can the renovation in the continuation, which we all deem necessary, be accomplished by the ways of the constitution? “The evil,” says Junius, “lies too deep to be cured by any remedy, less than some great convulsion which may bring back the constitution to its original principles, or utterly destroy it.” Is this opinion still truer when applied to this country? Or is it false?
Who are the People?
Can the right of changing the constitution rest any where but in the original constitutive power – the People?
Can the will of the People be known but by full and fair convention, to be constituted on the plan which will come recommended on the most popular authority?
What are the rights of Roman Catholics, and what are the immediate duties of Protestants respecting these rights?
Are the Roman Catholics generally or partially capaces Libertatis? And if not, What are the speediest means of making them so?
Is the independence of Ireland nominal or real, a barren right or a fact regulative of national conduct and influencing national character?
Has it had any other effect than raising the value of a house, and making it more self-sufficient, at the expense of the People?
Is there any middle state between the extremes of union with Britain and total separation, in which the rights of the People can be fully established and rest in security?
What is the form of government that will secure to us our rights with the least expense and the greatest benefit?
By the BROTHERHOOD are these questions, and such as these, to be determined. On this determination are they to form the chart of their constitution, which with honour and good faith they are to subscribe, and which is to regulate their course – Let the Society at large meet four times in the year, and an acting Committee once a month, to which all Members shall be invited. Let these meetings be convivial, but not the transitory patriotism of deep potation; confidential, the heart open and the door locked; conversational; not a debating society. There is too much haranguing in this country already; a very great redundance of sound. Would that we spoke a little more laconically, and acted a little more emphatically, and we shall do so, when our aim is at something nobler and fairer than even the sublime and beautiful of Mr. Burke: — the sublimity of Common-Sense – the beauty of Common-Weal.
Our Society should at first be very chaste and cautious in the selection of Members, shunning equally the giddiness of the boy, and that sullen indifference about the public good which comes on with decline of years, looking around for those that are competent, and with respect to themselves content, yet zealous and persevering, not venal, not voracious, not confined in their manners and their morality to the pale of a profession, not idle philanthropists, who figet around the globe with their favourite adage; not those who are bound down by obedience to that wizard word Empire, to the sovereignty of two founding syllables; but honest, honourable Irishmen, of whatever rank, of whatever religion, who know Liberty, who love it, who wish to have it, and who will have it. – Members should be admitted only by a unanimous ballot, and perhaps once a year there should be a general re-election.
The external business of the Society will be, 1st, Publication, in order to propagate their principles and effectuate their ends. All papers for this purpose to be sanctioned by the Committee, and published with no other designation of character than – ONE OF THE BROTHERHOOD. Secondly, Communication with the different towns to be assiduously kept up, and every exertion used to accomplish a National Convention of the People of Ireland, who may profit by past errors, and by many unexpected circumstances which have happened since the last meeting. Thirdly, Communication with similar Societies abroad, as the Jacobin Club in Paris, the Revolution Society in England, the Committee for Reform in Scotland. Let the nations go abreast. Let the interchange of sentiment among mankind concerning the rights of man be as immediate as possible. A correspondence with distinguished men in Britain, or on the Continent, will be necessary to enlighten us, and ought to be cherished. Eulogies on such men as have deserved well of their country until death, should be from time to time delivered by one of the Brotherhood, their works should live in a Library to be formed by this Society, and dedicated to Liberty, and the Portraits of such men should adorn it. Let the shades of the mighty dead look down and consecrate our meetings. The Athenians were accustomed to fasten their edicts to the statues of their ancestors. Let our Laws and Liberties have a similar attachment, taking heed always to remember what has been always too forgotten – That We are to be ancestors ourselves; and as our bodies moulder down after sepulchre, merely to pass into new forms of live, let our spirits preserve a principle of animation to posterity, and germinate from the very grave.
What is the time most applicable for the establishment of this Institution? Even NOW. “Le grand art est dans l’apropos.” Why is Administration so imperious? Because the nation does not act. The Whig Club is not a transfusion from the People. We do not thoroughly understand that Club, and they do not feel for us. When the Aristocracy come forward, the People fall backward; when the People come forward, the Aristocracy, fearful of being left behind, insinuate themselves into our ranks, and rise into timid leaders, or treacherous auxiliaries. They mean to make us our instruments. Let us rather make them our instruments. One of the two must happen. The People must serve the purposes of Party, or the party must emerge in the mightiness of the People, and Hercules will then lean upon his club.
On the 14th of July, the day which shall ever commemorate the French Revolution, let this Society pour out their first libation to European Liberty, eventually the Liberty of the World, and with their hands joined in each other, and their eyes raised to Heaven, in his presence who breathed into them an ever-living soul, let them swear to maintain their rights and prerogatives of their nature as men, and the right and prerogative of Ireland as an Independent People – “Dieu et mon Droit!” is the motto of kings. “Dieu et la Liberte!” exclaimed Voltaire, when he first beheld Franklin in his Fellow-Citizen of the World. “Dieu et nos Droits!” – Let Irishmen cry aloud to each other the cry of Mercy – of Justice – and of Victory.