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Peel's Speech on the Suppression of Disturbances (Ireland): 1 March 1833

Taken from

[361] Mr. Henry Lytton Bulwer presented a petition from Coventry, against the proposed coercive measures for Ireland, which, the petitioners considered, were intended to perpetuate the exaction of tithes.

The petition having been ordered to lie on the table, the hon. member moved the Order of the day for resuming the adjourned debate.

Sir George Grey, Mr. Harvey, Lord John Russell, Mr. Henry Grattan, and the Attorney-general, having addressed the House,—

SIR ROBERT PEEL rose, and spoke as follows :—Having a deep sense of the value of the time of this House, and seeing how much of it is wasted in useless discussion, I shall, without any attempt at an elaborate preface, proceed at once, briefly and in the plainest language, to state the course I mean to pursue with respect to this painful measure; and the grounds upon which my resolution has been formed. I came down to the House on the first night of the debate, with a strong impression, founded on the general notoriety of facts which have not been denied, that some measure in aid of the ordinary operation of the law, was absolutely necessary for the protection of life and property, and the preservation of order in Ireland. I have since heard from two ministers of the Crown a detail of atrocities, the recital of which makes the blood run cold. Is this detail correct? Have these murders —these burnings — these various atrocious crimes — been committed? We may differ as to the conclusion to be drawn from the premises; we may differ as to the remedy [632] to be applied; but do we agree as to the state of facts, and as to the existence and character of this evil? Up to this hour I have heard no denial of the truth of the statements that have been made. There appears on all sides an admission that the condition of society in many parts of Ireland is most alarming — that the worst crimes have been committed with impunity. Some attribute this state of things to the remissness of the government; others think the spirit of disturbance might still be suppressed by the vigorous execution of existing laws; but no one has impeached the accuracy of those statements which have been made to the House on official authority. To that authority I can, of course, add nothing. If the details of crime already given be thought imperfect, I cannot supply the deficiency; but I find on the records of this House some recent testimonies as to the moral and social condition of certain parts of Ireland, which completely confirm my own previous impressions, and warrant the inferences which have been probably drawn from the recital of individual acts of outrage. As I before observed, the first point to be ascertained is, whether we are agreed as to facts. As the foundation of my argument, and in aid of the uncontradicted evidence already offered to us, I beg to quote the testimonies I have before referred to; they will be found in the appendix to a report on the state of the Queen's County, which was presented at the close of last session.

The first is contained in a charge delivered by a Judge of the land — a Judge who has had much experience in the administration of criminal law, who has had personal opportunities, in the exercise of his judicial functions, of observing the state and the progress of crime. This Judge has always professed opinions truly liberal; has always been the friend of that liberty which is founded on order; has from his earliest years been friendly to the Roman Catholic claims; and by his great abilities and unsullied integrity has commanded the respect of all parties in Ireland. The Judge to whom I am alluding is Baron Sir William Smith. It being his duty to preside at the Lent assizes at Maryborough, in the Queen's County, in the year 1832, he thus commences his charge to the grand jury:— "Gentlemen of the grand jury — I find here a calendar consisting of 150 cases. Of these, twelve are charges of murder; six of conspiracy to murder; nine of manslaughter; eleven of rape; five of child murder and its appurtenances; eleven of abduction; forty-one of house-breaking, assaulting dwellings, and robbery of arms; nine of shooting at persons; two of administering unlawful oaths; and twenty-two of violent assaults. A mere selection from this general calendar, of cases which the Attorney-general has found it necessary to prosecute consists, as to quantity of crime, of more than fifty in number, and as to quality, includes nine murders or felonious homicides; five cases of robbery, and one of demanding arms five of burglary; one of conspiracy to murder, and three of shooting at with a murderous intent; one case of arson, and four, or rather six, of assaulting habitations; five of compulsory notices, threats, and menaces; and two of administering an unlawful oath; eleven cases of waylaying and malicious assault; two of appearing in arms; four of abduction; one of child-murder, and one of child-desertion."

These were the atrocities to be tried at one assizes.

The learned Judge proceeds :— "The state of this county, however, seems to furnish an example of what I have more than once had occasion to observe; how easily disorder can shift its purposes and course, and, after threatening one line of outrage, proceed upon another. A fact which, by the way, we ought constantly to bear in mind; and be cautious how, by encouraging the discontented feelings of the populace, we inadvertently collect and raise, and train and exercise, a force concerning which we must be uncertain what direction it may take. Not many months ago, when I last was in this county, and presided in this court, I found a system gaining head, of tumultuary array; against rights long undisputed, distinctly recognised, and firmly established by the law. It did not seem to be too late to stem the gathering torrent. This, accordingly, within my limited province, I attempted; and, for a time, the attempt did not appear to be unsuccessful. But my endeavours" — I call your attention to this passage — "were counteracted by influence which did not fail to render them abortive. Of this powerful counteraction, what may be surmised to have been already the results? The lower class of society, a class deficient in the guiding lights of knowledge and instruction, and [633] labouring, it must be admitted, under sufferings and privations, and on these accounts the more liable to be excited and misled — this portion, I say, of our community, stimulated into turbulent and lawless agitation (it may be unawares, and without a culpable, nay, even with a laudable intent) your county become restless, discontented, and disturbed; its tranquillity rendered, I can only hope not permanently, insecure; your prison crowded to excess with persons charged with insurrectionary transgressions of the law; and the Crown compelled to wield its powers of prosecution, if not with rigour, with an unusual degree of energy and force. If the popular enterprise and incursion proved a failure, we should have gained by it nothing better than commotion and offence; followed by the punishment of, too often, not the misleaders, but the misled. If, on the contrary, their resistance of the law accomplished an alteration of its enactments, might they not, by their victory over one class of rights, be encouraged to march forward to the storming of a second, and not discover, till too late, that in spoiling the rights of others, they had been inadvertently plundering and demolishing their own?"

Take the testimony of another gentleman also above all exception — a gentleman who would not have come forward, considering the situation in which he stood, unless he had been compelled by an urgent sense of public duty. I refer to a gentleman occupying the situation of a Roman Catholic priest, with no undue influence upon his mind to lead him to exaggerate the unfortunate condition of the country. In a letter addressed to Lord de Vesci, by the Rev. Nicholas O'Connor, parish priest of Maryborough, and quoted in Mr. O'Connor's evidence before the committee, the following passage occurs:— "In vain have we waited in hopes of the returning good sense of the deluded; and have found, on the contrary, the well-disposed compelled, by intimidation, either to join the illegal societies, or murdered, or terrified out of the country." This was the testimony of a Roman Catholic priest: it occupied only three lines, it is true; but could the House conceive three lines more pregnant with horror? Such was the state of the country — such the powerless condition of the law, that, to the peaceable and well-disposed, the choice was offered between three courses of action — either to join the illegal societies, or forfeit their lives, or abandon their country. I shall only refer to one other testimony in reference to this subject, because the multiplication of undisputed and indisputable statements, all bearing on the one point, is of no advantage. The last testimony, then, to which I shall direct the attention of the House, as completing the picture, is that of Dr Doyle, Roman Catholic bishop of the diocess of Kildare and Leighlin. It is contained in a letter addressed by Dr. Doyle to the Catholic clergy and people of his diocese, and is as follows:— "For several months past we have witnessed, with the deepest affliction of spirit, the progress of illegal combinations, under the barbarous designations of Whitefeet and Blackfeet, within certain portions of these diocesses. We have laboured — by letter and by word, by private admonition and by public reproof, proceeding from ourselves and from our clergy — to arrest and to suppress this iniquity; but the tares which the enemy of man has in the night-time sown in the field of the Church, have grown up in despite of our watchfulness. Murders, blasphemies, perjuries, rash swearing, robberies, assaults on persons and property, the usurpation of the powers of the State," — mark that; "the usurpation of the powers of the State," — "and of the rights of the peaceable and well-disposed, are multiplied and every day perpetrated, at the instigation of the devil, by the wicked and deluded men engaged in those confederacies."

Such is the outline of the state of crime in one considerable district of Ireland, traced by the faithful pencils of a Roman Catholic priest, a Roman Catholic bishop, and a Judge of the land. Will any one assert that the picture is overcharged?— If it be not — if there be no exaggeration, no over-colouring of the melancholy facts — will it be maintained that ordinary remedies will suffice for the cure of this admitted and alarming evil? If the statement of facts be not denied, and if the existing law be not sufficient, then I feel warranted in giving my assent to the first reading of this bill — that is, in fact, to the introduction of the measure, with a view to its future consideration in detail. Into that detail I will not now enter; not that I would shrink from doing so, if this were the fit occasion; but let me assure those who are for the first time members of this House, that the established rules and orders of our [634] proceeding, which allot different stages of the same bill for different discussions — one for the principle, another for the details — are well calculated, if duly observed, to promote the fair collision of opinion, and to elicit the truth. All that I shall say at present, with respect to the details of the bill, is briefly this, that, although I will not now pledge myself to their adoption without modification; yet I will not consent to fritter away the general efficacy of the measure, by encumbering the powers which it confers by various restrictions and qualifications.

I will now proceed to review those arguments brought forward in this debate against the principle of the measure, which appear — at least if one may judge from their frequent repetition — to be mainly relied upon by its opponents. It is said, repeatedly, that this measure of coercion is no cure for the deep-seated evils under which Ireland is suffering. In the truth of that observation I cordially concur. There is not a man present who views the condition of society in Ireland with more anxiety and apprehension than myself; or who feels more strongly than I do, the utter worthlessness, as a remedy, of this or any other measure of mere coercion. To form a true judgment of the state of Ireland, we must raise our views above the comparatively petty subjects of our party conflicts — above the questions, important as they are, of Corporations and Grand Jury laws, and tithe-commutation bills. We must include within our view, a whole population labouring under the double evil of a rapid progressive increase in its numbers, and of the contraction of a demand for its labour, and therefore its increasing destitution. We shall find these evils, that seem, at first view, incompatible with each other — each acting and reacting on the other, and contributing reciprocally to their own aggravation: the increase of population lowering each individual in the scale of comfort and enjoyment; and the diminished scale of comfort, by removing the checks on early and improvident marriages, and by causing a recklessness about the future, having a tendency to increase the population. Then comes the failure of the potato crop, the want of food, and the ravages of disease, opposing sudden and calamitous restraints on the increase of population, which might be much more effectually and more gradually controlled, were it possible to give a taste for increased comfort; and, at the same time, to supply by labour the means of commanding it. For these evils this measure is no relief. [Hear, hear, from some members.] Who said it was? — True, this measure is no remedy; but a state of anarchy precludes one. Coercion is not a cure; but continued insurrection is positive death.

I am aware that, even with regard to the professed remedies for the permanent evils of Ireland, I differ from a large majority in this House. I listen, night after night, to the attempts that are made to charge the clergy of Ireland with exaction and rapacity, and to represent tithe as the crying grievance of Ireland. No, no; these are not the sources of the evils that afflict the country; and though an extinction were effected of the legal rights of the clergy, the evils would continue — ay, and would be aggravated, if the rights of which the clergy should be deprived were transferred to the landlords. The first step towards remedying the evils, and removing the disorders of Ireland, will be the knowledge and the statement of the truth. Do not let us offer up unoffending men, who are already despoiled of their rights of property, as sacrifices for the exactions of others. Such a sacrifice would not suffice. You cannot stop at the spoliation of the Church. You will be the sufferers by your own injustice. Remember the remark of Lord Bolingbroke on the trial of Sacheverell: it is true of your attacks on the Irish clergy, and of their result :— "They made a fire to roast a parson, but they made it so hot that they burned themselves." I ask, whether gentlemen have read the evidence on the subject of tithes? I refer them to the testimony of Mr. John Walsh, a Roman Catholic magistrate — for I prefer Roman Catholic evidence in such a case — for an exculpation of the clergy. Mr. Walsh is conversant with the condition of the lower classes of his countrymen, and his testimony shows that the miserable state of that vast class of farmers who occupied farms of less than fifteen acres, was attributable, not to the tithe of the clergy, but to the rent of the landlords. Let those gentlemen who talk of the exactions of the clergy, and think that the evils that afflict Ireland flow solely from tithes, and, consequently, that the "healing" measure for their abolition would accomplish all that was necessary to be done in that country — let them look at the evidence of Mr. Walsh. He states that the majority of persons under the class of [635] farmers in the county of Kilkenny are people holding from ten to fifteen acres of land; that they are generally in the greatest state of destitution from about the month of April to the month of September. Farmers in that class have no means of meeting the demands made upon them but by their crop; and from the time the sale of the crop takes place, till the next crop, they are destitute of every means of obtaining money. Potatoes generally, without either milk or meat, constitute their diet; and they consider themselves very lucky if they have enough of them. I asked Mr. Walsh how many rents a solvent tenant in Ireland ought to make, in order to prosper on his farm. His answer was — "Such a calculation never came into the head of the Irish tenant. All he looks to is, to provide his family with potatoes, and pay his rent to his landlord." I asked him whether the people consider themselves well off, if they made two rents out of their crop. Mr. Walsh replied, "That he considered a farmer, by converting land to the best purpose, might make double the rent; but he did not think that the small farmer, in general, made any thing like that. He meant to represent this as the general state of the farmers of ten or fifteen acres, who have a greater proportion of the whole land than the half of it." The examination of Mr. Walsh proceeded as follows:— "You were asked for a statement of what you conceived to be the outgoings upon a farm of ten acres, and the profit that would accrue to the tenant: have you prepared a statement in explanation of that?" Answer: "I have. I have put the most general mode in which an Irish farmer of that description makes his rent. I have first debited with his year's rent, £15 ; then ten barrels of seed potatoes at 4s. for one acre, planted for his own use, another acre being generally given for manure, £2; two barrels of seed wheat, £2. 10s; four barrels of seed oats, £1 16s., at 9s. a barrel; by which he will have cropped two acres of wheat, two of oats, and two of potatoes; making six acres of tillage, and leaving the remaining four acres to support his cow and horse. I think I overstated the average produce of such land at six barrels of wheat per acre; I think five barrels would be nearer the average upon 30s. land. I have put that at £1.5s. a barrel, which for ten barrels would be £12 10s.; the oats, of which he may have sixteen barrels, I have rated at 9s., making £7 14s.; profit on feeding four pigs, £6; butter sold from one cow, generally in small quantities, £1.10s.; making in the entire, £27 14s. The seed and rent, as I have said, come to £21 6s. Then, where the composition is not in force, there is tithe on two acres of potatoes, £1. 4s.; wheat, £1.4s.; oats, 16s.: the rent, tithe, and seed, therefore, come to £24 10s.; and deducting that from the receipts, which come to £27 14s., there is only £3 4s. left him for paying taxes and church-rate, repair of houses and forge-work — the labour being done by himself and family, for whose support he has one acre of potatoes and one cow's milk." I will next read an extract or two from the evidence of a clergyman named Dwyer. In answer to the question — " Are there a great number of intermediate landlords in Ireland?" Mr. O'Dwyer said, "Not in the part where I live; but I believe, in many parts — in the more improved parts — there are." — " Is it the case generally ?" — "I believe it is wearing out a good deal : I know that in the county of Galway it has considerably decreased." "Do you know the situation of the landlord placed immediately over the tenant; is he generally  a respectable man?" "Very often not: last year I found upon a piece of land, that might, when it was let, be fifty-six or fifty-eight acres, fifty-two families residing; it was broken so small as that; and the consequence of the minute subdivision of it was, that, being adjacent to a bog, the people had spread, and reclaimed some of the lands of the bog." Before they joined in condemnation of the clergy, let the House attend to the following extract from the same gentleman's evidence. It was the intention of the Tithe Composition Act to relieve the tenant from the tithe, and that the landlord should henceforth let his land tithe-free and be the virtual payee of the tithe; that is, by giving credit for the tithe-owner's receipt for such tithe. Says Mr. O'Dwyer, "I have in my own instance known the tithe composition applotment to be borrowed from me and from my clerk, by the agents of proprietors in the country, for the purpose of ascertaining what the exact amount of composition was with reference to their own estates, and then setting their lands. On many occasions, I believe, it has been the practice to embody in the rent that they charge upon the tenant the amount of the composition-rent as applotted or assessed upon the land; but still, nevertheless, that the liability for the payment remained upon [636] the tenants; and those tenants, many of them, have complained to me that when they offered their receipts for tithe-rent, they got no credit for it in the accounts of their landlords." " Would not the tenant have the power of enforcing such a claim against his landlord?"—" I am not aware that there is any especial provision in the Act that would enable him; and I am sufficiently well acquainted with the dispositions and the habits of the people to know, that it would not be a very feasible thing for them to do, to compel such credit to be given. The tenantry, in general, are too much dependent upon their landlords. Leases are generally not given complete leases; they more frequently hold by demise, or they hold by acceptance of proposal, which leaves them entirely at the mercy of the landlord to continue them in or not."

Now, I ask, is the statement of this clergyman true! Are there landlords in some parts of Ireland who have done this? Have they increased the rent of their tenants by the amount of tithe to which those tenants were subject, left the tenant responsible for the tithe to the clergyman, and then refused to give him credit for the amount paid, notwithstanding the production of the clergyman's receipt? If these things are not true, contradict them: but while they remain on our records uncontradicted, it is neither very generous nor very just, that, in this assemblage of landlords, where the clergy have no place, no means of personal defence, they should be held up as extortioners and destroyers of the poor. They have lost — many of them, at least — have lost their all, either through the dishonesty of others, or their own forbearance. In mercy let us spare their characters, unless we are sure that our accusations are just.

Other remedies are proposed — Poor-laws among the rest. If I have paused in giving my assent to their introduction into Ireland, it is not from insensibility to Irish suffering, but from the fear, where poverty is so wide-spread, and the demand for labour so disproportionate to the supply, that the principle of the Poor-laws once introduced, the whole revenue of the land will ultimately be absorbed by the claims for relief, and an agrarian law of the worst kind practically established. Suggestions have been offered of a strict limitation of the principle of Poor-laws; of confining relief exclusively to cases of disease, and decrepitude, and total incapacity for labour, If this limitation can be applied, and rigidly enforced, many of the objections to the system of Poor-laws will, no doubt, be abated. But looking, on the one hand, to the extent and complication of poverty in Ireland; on the other, to the extreme difficulty of confining within definite limits any sound principle of relief, and of checking its abuse — I have sometimes feared that, in reference to Poor-laws for Ireland, we are almost arrived at that melancholy state described by the Roman historian, "in quo nec vitia nostra nec remedia pati possumus."

There has been much vague declamation about healing measures, and large concessions, the nature of which has not been specified, and of which, therefore, no one can judge. But this I will say, that, however you may talk of healing measures, and notwithstanding you may conciliate powerful parties by concessions, parliament will gain nothing by giving way to popular clamour, or yielding one single point beyond that which their sense of justice may dictate. If ministers should either consent to the confiscation of any species of property, or should establish principles leading to future confiscation, they may be cheered in this House by the voices of many around them — but not only will they fail to procure additional security for life, and peace, and property; but, so far from satisfying the deluded people of Ireland, they will only whet their appetites for further rapine. I shall vote for this measure; but I accept it as no compromise on any other subject. I vote for it on its own principle, and will consider whatever other measures may be presented on their principles. If ever there was a country in which it was essential jealousy to uphold the rights and properties of all classes — to teach all men, rich and poor, that those rights must and shall be respected — that clamour and combination shall not prevail; it is the country which is the unhappy subject of this debate.

I shall proceed in my review of the main objections to this bill — sweeping aside, of course, all the rubbish with which gentlemen have filled up the interstices of their arguments. Of such rubbish the following appeal was a fair specimen: — "Was this measure the proof which ministers gave of their gratitude to Ireland!" — " Was this the gratitude of the legislature for the assistance received from Ireland on the Reform Bill?" As to this latter appeal, it could not be supposed to produce much effect [637] upon those who had opposed Reform. Still, I admit that I should be quite as base as those charged with ingratitude, if I consented to a law like this, if it be not absolutely necessary for the tranquillization of Ireland. But this is no question of gratitude or ingratitude. The lives and properties of the king's peaceable subjects are not to be complimented away. The question is, does the state of Ireland require such a measure? If it does, what room is there to talk of gratitude? Parliament is to determine whether bands of armed ruffians are to be permitted to break open houses by night, to plunder arms, to injure property, to destroy life. Why do you call these things privileges? Is this the happiness and the liberty of which it will be ingratitude to deprive you? It has been said, that this measure amounts to a suspension of the British constitution. I admit, that it is a measure of severity, of intolerable severity, unless there be a paramount necessity for it: I admit that; but I deny that it is a suspension of the British constitution. Oh, no; that has been long suspended. I see indeed a ghastly form, which takes the semblance and usurps the name of the British constitution; but it is a Phantom without life. You mistake the British constitution. It is not a mere heap of cumbrous formalities, that serve no other purpose but to give impunity to those who are accused of crime. The British constitution is meant to give equal protection, and ensure to all equal liberty. It presupposes the existence of some executory principle to work it — of instruments imbued with the generous spirit in which itself was framed. It presupposes a love of order, a respect for property, a reverence for the obligation of an oath. The British constitution never recognised the vile doctrine of passive resistance. It may have no punishment for it. It may have been too generous to foresee a wide spread combination among rich and poor, to defeat the law, and to rob others of their property. So long as this robbery is committed with impunity — so long as innocent men are fleeing from their homes to seek protection from murder — do what you will, but do not talk of the British constitution! Spare us the stale quotations from Lord Chatham — spare us the empty boast, "that an Englishman's house is his castle!" What! Was the Rev. Mr. Houston's house his castle? Was Mr. Marum's house his castle? Will you see men savagely murdered in the broad day by assassins, and then mock their widows and their children with your laboured periods about the British constitution and an Englishman's castle? You may not be able to punish guilt; you may not be able to prevent murder; but do not let these things be perpetrated under the shield and cover of the British constitution. Send it not on a forlorn hope, on which disgraceful failure is inevitable. Impose not upon it the condition of Egyptian bondage; and exact the work without giving it the materials. This is my answer to your objection, that the bill will suspend the British constitution.

But it has been asked repeatedly, would England tolerate this law? I ask, would England tolerate the state of things which now exists in Ireland? And this state of things existed before this law was brought in, and therefore my question ought to have precedence. Would England bear to live under the domination of hungry and illiterate legislators, with no more mercy than those in Ireland? I tell you that England, rather than submit to such a state of things, would rouse those energies which existed before laws, and are independent of laws, and would put down the base and vulgar tyranny. If these fail, and if to the suppression of that tyranny such a law as this was indispensable, England would tolerate it — ay, and would demand it. She would not talk of the ingratitude of a legislature which rescued life and property from midnight attacks — but she would rebuke the apathy and cowardice of one which refused to give them protection. The measure had two objects in view; and one of the main objections to it was, that it contemplated both those objects. The first object for which it provided, by enactments which extended to the whole of Ireland, was to prevent political agitation; the other object was, to prevent those insurrectionary proceedings which have been called in this debate agrarian disturbances. The objection was, that political agitation was unconnected with the insurrectionary proceedings, and that it was unnecessary and unjust that there should be precautions taken against political agitation. I will make no personal applications; but this I will say, that I will not vote for a law which should arrest the ignorant and deluded offenders, unless it laid at the same time its interdict upon the system which encouraged and incited them. I am now touching on. the most [638] important part of the measure. It would be unjust to limit the law to a number of wretched Whitefeet, whilst it made no attempt to prevent the proximate cause of insurrection. I can see no justice in an act which should punish the deluded conspirators, if it did not take some precautions against the system of political agitation. There are great fallacies on this part of the subject. The argument was this — that there were two matters, political agitation and insurrectionary violence, but that they were altogether unconnected; that the system of political agitation was not connected with the insurrections. He should try to draw the line between the truth and the mistake, and expose the fallacy. The object of political agitation was to work upon the mass of the people — to create a mighty power of opinion and physical force combined, which should be subject to its control, and obedient to its will. It was no easy matter to keep this fiery mass at the proper temperature, and at the same time to prevent those partial eruptions and explosions from which no good could ensue. I do not deny that political agitation does occasionally condemn, and does try to repress, insurrectionary violence: to be sure it does — it does it whenever insurrectionary violence defeats the object of political agitation. You say, that political agitation has the power, and has exercised the power, of restoring peace to disturbed districts — that ten counties have been quiet through its influence. I, for one, will not pay such a price for peace and quiet. What does all this prove? Why, that there exists a power, superior to government, and superior to law, that operates by an unseen but magic influence on the mass of the people. This power may be strong for good purposes, but it is irresistible for evil. Do you think, if it can perform the miracle of stilling the stormy wave of the multitude, it need to put forth equal strength to rouse into fury the tranquil deep? Your government and the dominion of the law exist but by sufferance, if you permit yourselves to be duped by the sophistry, that, because political agitation may be able occasionally to control popular excesses, therefore it is a system to be tolerated and encouraged. But the truth is, that it can only control those excesses for a time: it must administer some great stimulant; it must excite a hope of some great measure of relief. At one time the Catholic question will serve its purpose; at another the repeal of the union, or the destruction of the church: but if it should come to pass that excitement cannot be maintained — that the special object to be gained cannot possibly be achieved: then popular excesses will break their bonds and prove too strong even for political agitation.

You read to us plausible and artful manifestoes, exhorting the people to abstain from crime. They may be very sincere; you tell me they are so, and I am bound, at least, not to contradict you; but this I say, that the issue of such manifestoes is, of itself, no proof of sincerity. I say more, that the cunning of the serpent would suggest and dictate the issue of them. I will believe you to be sincere, if you will abandon the system of agitation at the same moment that you exhort the people to peace and good order; but, if you do not abandon that system, of what avail are your exhortations? Of course, the mass that obeys you will be more irresistible, as the habits of subordination and discipline are more complete. Is an army less powerful or less formidable because it maintains good discipline — because it obeys the orders of its superiors — because it abstains from individual acts of outrage and violence? I do not say, that such exhortations are incompatible with good intentions; but I will prove to you that they are quite compatible with the worst. Let us go back to the period of 1798. You will find, in the secret reports of the Irish parliament, on the origin and progress of the Irish rebellion, that the leaders of rebels, who were negotiating with France, were, at the same time, exhorting their followers to peace and good order. Here is an address of the county committee of Dublin to their constituents:—

"We recommend, in the most earnest manner, your constant recollection of your solemn obligations to promote a brotherhood of affection among Irishmen of every religious persuasion: suffer it not to be a mere profession; but realize it by every act of benevolence and kindness, as you would do to your natural brothers.

"Be sober, and promote sobriety in all your circles. Banish all violent and intemperate language from your meetings: be assured that nothing can injure the cause of liberty more than such conversations. Violent and intemperate language is affected by spies and enemies." — Spies and enemies! one word on that subject. This [639] is the universal cant, that all the disturbances in Ireland are the work of emissaries employed by the government, to ensnare the credulous and innocent people into the commission of crime. I have been connected with the government, English and Irish, for near twenty years, and I declare, upon my honour, I never knew or heard of a spy or emissary employed by government for the purpose of seducing people into the commission of crime. The government that employed such instruments would be justly the object of execration and ridicule. But to revert to the address. "Avoid, as much as possible, all meetings in public-houses: a few minutes, in any convenient place, will be sufficient for a small number of men to confer on the objects of their deliberation."

What excellent advice! but where do I find it? Why, in the very same document which contains the resolutions and constitution of the society of United Irishmen; — in the very same document which explains the organisation of that extraordinary machinery of treason, by which baronial committees, and county committees, and provincial committees, and the national committee, were constituted; the inferior authorities each obedient to the commands of a superior, of whose names and persons it was kept in utter ignorance.

Among the persons who were apprehended in 1798, shortly before the breaking out of the rebellion, was an active agent of treason, of the name of Edward Ratigan. In his house there were found many thousand copies of an address to his countrymen, breathing that spirit of peace which betokens the holy effusions of religion, rather than a political manifesto. Can any thing be more edifying than the lessons which it inculcates? — "Your strength consists in being a cordially united and thoroughly well organised body. Let sobriety, let good character, let courage, let talents, be the qualities which shall direct your choice. Purge your societies of all suspicious or doubtful men. Be discreet, and avoid drunkenness. Be patient, and avoid riots. The taking of arms, by force, from houses is attended with great evil, and productive of no good; therefore, any man imprisoned shall not be maintained by their societies." [Hear, hear! from some members.]

Oh yes! the instructions are excellent; but sometimes the cry of "Hear, hear!" is premature. What a pity it is that this was not the only document found in the possession of Edward Ratigan! He would have gone forth with the character of an apostle of peace; and would have been sent, perhaps, on his holy mission, protected and rewarded by the government of Ireland. But Edward Ratigan had other papers in his possession, which might suggest a doubt of his apostolic character. He had a sergeant's oath, which runs thus:— "I, A B, do voluntarily declare that I will come forward when called upon by my captain or superior officer, and aid him in any eligible manner that may tend to the establishment of liberty or the freedom of Ireland; and that I will not call forward, under arms, any of the men consigned to my command, without the authority of my superior officer; and that I will not risk, by any illegal meeting, the safety of any individual under my command."

This oath throws some suspicion, I fear, on the good intentions of the political sermon on obedience and sobriety, of which Mr. Ratigan had so many thousand copies: but there was in the possession of Mr. Ratigan a still more awkward document. It reposed peaceably, side by side, with the admirable address which was cheered just now, and it is not a bad commentary upon it..

It is a return of the number of United Irishmen in thirteen counties of Ireland; that is, of the men among whom the address was to be distributed, and who amounted, from Mr. Ratigan's returns, to 111,725 men, for whom there were in store, according to the same return, 6,919 guns, 34,632 ball cartridges, and 43,125 pikes. So much for Mr. Ratigan and his exhortations to sobriety and good order. Now, all that I meant to prove was, that it may so happen that men with very dangerous intentions may sometimes give very good advice respecting the duties of peace, and obedience to the law; and I hope that I have succeeded.

It only remains to enquire what practical course I shall pursue. Shall I vote for the first reading of this bill, and thus permit a further consideration of it? or, shall I reject it at once, as an act of intolerable and unjustified despotism? I have, it is true, an alternative: I may, if I choose, range myself under the standard which has been erected by the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Tennyson), the member for Lambeth. But really, Sir, the device which he has chosen for his shield is so little inspiriting, [640] that I am forced to hesitate. If his war-cry had been, "Down with the bill!" or; "Trial by Jury!" or, "Stand by the Laws!" or, "The British Constitution or Death!" one might have partaken of the enthusiasm of your leader, and followed him at all hazards. But when the leader has chosen such a very unromantic motto — when his standard is merely inscribed — "That this bill be read a first time on this day fortnight;" — when he rallies his followers with the sage advice, "Let us wait a little," —"Come, tarry awhile with me," I have self-possession enough to resist his appeal.

Wait a fortnight! and for what? Why, to see what effect the promise of remedial measures will have in a fortnight. Did the right hon. gentleman hear the secretary of Ireland give an account of the relative progress of crime during certain periods of each of the last four years? It was bad enough in 1829; it was worse in 1830; 1831 was still more alarming; but 1832 almost exceeded belief. — Well! but you have had "remedial" measures in abundance during the interval. Why, you had extinction of tithe, as it was called: nay more, you had the great healing measure of all — reform of parliament. If they have done nothing in the space of four years; nay, if they have made — or, at any rate, if matters have become, in spite of them — infinitely worse, where is the use of waiting a fortnight? How I wish we were at this moment at the end of the fortnight, and that I could just ask the member for Lambeth what he would do next? Would he wait another fortnight, or pass the bill? No, Sir, there is no use in this delay; there is no use in pausing on the banks of this turbid stream, and poring over the waters, to see whether some days hence they will be less streaked and discoloured with human blood. I am for passing over while it is yet day ; while the current is yet fordable; while it is yet within our power to carry across the stream succour to the law, and consolation to the drooping spirits of those who have begun to despair. Wait a fortnight, and you may be too late! not because you waited the fortnight; but because you showed the symptoms of irresolution and fear. The current already rapid, but still passable, may, before you are aware, become a foaming torrent, that refuses to be crossed —

"Lapides adesos
stirpesque raptas, et pecus et domos
volventis una" —

I have attempted to refute some of the objections urged against this measure; but the truth is, that it is here, it is in this list, in this bloody catalogue of crime, that the true answer to these objections lies:— 196 murders and murderous attempts; 194 burnings; 1,827 burglaries and attacks on houses! Can you deny these facts; and if you cannot, where is your answer to the argument drawn from them? It is too powerful not to be repeated. Above 2,200 acts of insurrectionary violence have been committed in one single year in one single province.

One hundred and ninety-six murders! — Why, you have fought great battles, and achieved famous victories, at a less cost of English blood! [An hon. member: No, no] No! but I say emphatically, Yes. The battle of St. Vincent cost you less. The terrible bombardment of Algiers cost you less. With less profusion of English blood you rolled back the fiery tide which the exulting valour of France poured upon the heights of Busaco. But why do I talk of battles? — Oh, how tame and feeble the comparison between death on the field of honour, and that death which is inflicted by the hand of Irish assassins! It is not the fatal hour of that death that is most terrible; it is the wasting misery of suspense, the agony of expectation, that is listening for weeks and months to every nightly sound, lest it be the fatal knell to summon a whole family to destruction. These are the real terrors, from which the act of murder is but too often a merciful relief. In Ireland they can afford to give you notice of death; and woe to the victim that receives that notice and neglects it! In England, who is there that has mixed in public life and has not received some anonymous warning, or threat of personal injury, and, having received it, does not treat it either as a malignant jest, or an empty menace, which proves that from one quarter, at least, he is in no danger? But, in Ireland, these warnings are given in sober earnestness. They are the preliminary tortures, the refinements of cruelty, which embitter the pangs of death. These, Sir, may appear slight things, but they are in truth the colours that paint the state of society more vividly than volumes of laboured disquisitions.

There never was a tale of fictitious horror that equalled the romance that in that [641] state of society real life has presented. There never was a creative fancy that could figure to itself a state of misery more terrible than that which has been, and now is, endured by many a family in Ireland, or could portray, from imagination alone, such examples of heroic fortitude, of sublime composure in the very jaws of death, as have been exhibited by illiterate and wretched peasants. There you may find the gauge and measure of the load of agony which the human spirit, after repeated trials, can endure, without fainting under the pressure.

I am still haunted by the recollection of the scenes of atrocity and suffering with which I was once familiar. Will the House bear with me while I mention one fact to prove the truth of what I say, both as to the misery that is endured, and as to the fortitude that is exhibited? It occurred long ago, but it was then no rare occurrence, and it is less so now.

There was a family in the county of Kilkenny, consisting of a father, mother, and three children; the eldest child, a girl about nine years of age. The father had made himself obnoxious by giving evidence against some persons charged with Whiteboy offences, who were, I believe, tried and executed. He was forced to leave the country; he came to Dublin: but the desire to return to his native spot overcame his fears, and he was resolved to brave the danger. It was in vain to expostulate with him: all he asked was, that he might be allowed to return to his home, and that his house might be slated. Perhaps some English members are not aware of the object of this request, and do not see the great difference, in point of security, between a thatched and a slated house. Here, again, is one of the slight, almost imperceptible circumstances, that are unerring indications of the state of society. The house is slated, as a means of additional defence, to prevent the murderers, who may try to force an entrance through the door or window, from setting fire to the roof in case of failure. The man returned to his home, took possession of his house, received a notice to leave it, and a threat of murder if he did not; but he still resisted all importunity to him to come to a place of safety, and remained with his family some weeks without being attacked — long enough to relax his vigilance. One night his house was surrounded either by eleven or nine men (I forget which at this moment). He was asleep in bed with his wife and children. They broke into the house, dragged the man just outside the door, and murdered him in the most horrid manner, with pitchforks, in the hearing and almost in the sight of his wife and children. Now, let the House mark what I am about to relate. While the husband was in the struggles of death, the mother took her child — the child of nine years of age — placed it in a recess that was close to the fireplace; — and, such was the heroic fortitude of that woman, such her awful composure, while the cries of her dying husband were ringing in her ears, that she said to her child: "Those are the cries of your dying father I shall be the next victim. After they have murdered him they will murder me: but I will not go out when they call me; I will struggle with them to the last, that I may give you time to do that for which I put you here. My last act will be to throw this dry turf on the hearth; and do you, by the glare of it, watch the faces of the murderers, mark them all narrowly, that you may be able to tell who they are, and to revenge the death of your father and your mother."

As the unhappy woman foretold, so it fell out. She was summoned, but she did not go forth. After a short but unsuccessful struggle with her murderers, she was dragged out of the house, and she was actually slain upon the bleeding body of her husband. The child obeyed her dying command — watched, by the lighted turf, the faces and every motion of the assassins — and upon the artless evidence of that child, which nothing could shake, five of those assassins were convicted, and hanged! Such are the romances of real life!

Alas! in that state of society in which such things take place, it is not merely that laws are powerless; all the moral restraints and checks on crime appear to have lost their force. Those feelings of pity, those compunctious visitings of nature, which, in other times, have given protection, at least to the helplessness of age and infancy, are extinct. There is no remorse. The conscience — "which makes cowards of us all" — inflicts no secret punishment on the murderer whom the law has spared. Those superstitious terrors; salutary, and almost instinctive prejudices, that impress the mind with a belief that murder cannot escape detection — are obliterated. The mighty genius that dived deepest into the recesses of the [642]  human heart, and laid bare the springs of human action, never imagined the total extinction of pity and remorse. When he painted the murderer, he painted him haunted by the recollection of his crime, and driven to distraction by the phantoms that pursued him:—

— " Blood will have blood, they say:
Stones have been known to move, and trees to speak;
Auguries and understood relations have brought forth
The secret'st man of blood."

In Ireland the man of blood is not secret; and neither the law of his country, nor his own conscience, have any terrors for him.

In this state of things, then, there being no adequate punishment inflicted by the ordinary operation of law, and the force of moral restraints on crime being almost extinguished, shall we reject at once this measure as unworthy of consideration? You are asked how this measure can supply the defect of evidence? You are told that it is evidence, and evidence only, that is now wanted; and it is enquired of you, in a tone of triumph, "Do you mean to convict without the proofs of guilt? and if not, how do you mean to procure those proofs?" I answer — By restoring confidence. Range yourselves on the side of order; lend the weight of your authority to the law; and from that hour you will instil confidence into the peaceable and well disposed, and strike terror into the coward hearts (for they are cowards) of nightly assassins. Then will men breathe a new atmosphere. Then will the position of the friends of order and of its enemies be reversed; and those who suffer will come forth with voluntary testimony to aid the law, which gives them redress for past injury, and protects them from renewed wrong. But if you shrink from your duty — if you pause for a fortnight — if you cover your irresolution under the flimsy veil of requiring further time to consider, then take these consequences :— The contagion of depravity will rapidly extend; the places yet healthy will be infected; the whole land will become a moral wilderness, in which every principle of government will be subverted, and every rule of justice reversed — in which there will be no punishment except for innocence, and no security except for triumphant guilt.

On the motion of Mr. Baldwin, the debate was adjourned till the following Monday.

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