« PreviousContinue »
favourably entertained by Mr. O'Connell, who placed it before the public with a very manifest indication of the leaning of his own mind. It is confidently said by those who have means of knowing, that a plan of this nature was assented to by some of the Whig leaders before the return of the party to power in 1846. If so, there is no difficulty in understanding why it was abandoned. Evil days fell upon Ireland. The might of the people wasted away before the terrible famine that desolated our land. Even before this, the schism in the ranks of the Repealers weakened the influence of the great tribune of the people. The decline of his health and energies, in itself forebade the exercise of his old power for a year before the grave closed over him in the gloom and depression of his country. There are men who do not hesitate confidently to assert that had Lord Bessborough and O'Connell both lived, and O'Connell kept his power, a Federal Constitution for Ireland would have been among the Cabinet measures of the ministry which succeeded to that of Sir Robert Peel.
Even so recently as last year, Sir George Grey proposed the concession of such a constitution as the only remedy for Irish disaffection, and influential English journals expressed their cordial concurrence in his views.
Considering all these things, I felt satisfied that, even now, such a proposal, if moderately and temperately made, was calculated to obtain the assent of thoughtful and intelligent Englishmen. I was sure that it would meet with the approval of many persons in both countries who would not support a measure which would simply repeal the Act of Union, without making some provision to secure the united action of the two countries in all matters that can concern them as one Imperial State. I was equally persuaded that under a Federal arrangement Ireland could enjoy all of self-government and distinct nationality which would be necessary for the full development of her national life. Even if I had felt less confidence in the success of the proposal, my conviction would have been equally decided, that it was essential to the interests of Ireland that it should be made.
Public matters were not then in a condition to justify any public agitation of the question, while attention was concentrated on the progress of legislation on the two great questions of the Church and the Land.
I had, however, opportunities in private of discussing the views I entertained with persons who had more power than I had of influentially directing Irish opinion.
A very general feeling is now entertained throughout Ireland that an effort should be made to obtain for the country the blessings of domestic government through the medium of a Federal arrangement, which would still preserve the unity and integrity of the Empire.
I believe, however, that the time is come when the Irish people expect that some definite proposal on the subject should be put before them.
There are many reasons which make me believe that I ought not to shrink from a task which, perhaps, few persons would be willing to undertake.
If I had none other I am anxious that the nature of my own views should be clearly understood as to the nature of the project which I was willing to recommend.
There is another motive which has had its influence in determining me to undertake this duty. I have been told by some persons that the proposal of Federalism would be unpopular with the Irish people—that, as compared with Repeal, it would be regarded as a lowering of the national flag, and that any person who would venture to bring it to the test of a detailed plan would be sure to forfeit the favour of Irish Nationalists.
I have more confidence in the sagacity and sobermindedness of “ Irish Nationalists” than to believe this. I have satisfied myself that, in a Federal Union, Ireland would take a higher place, and would exercise a greater influence than she did do, or ever could do, under the Constitution of 1782. I propose that Constitution perfected by a Federal Union with England. This ought to have been done in 1800. Instead of this the Irish Constitution was destroyed. But if that proposal be unpopular with any class or section of Irishmen, with the convictions I entertain, this is just the reason why I should place it before them. I do not conceal from myself that to any part I have recently taken in Irish public affairs my countrymen have accorded an amount of personal favour and approval which I did not seek or expect. But the very confidence they have placed in me enjoins on me the deepest obligation of placing before them my own convictions on subjects of moment to the country, even if I did believe that by suppressing them I might win more of their favour or applause.
If I have approached my task with apprehension, it is certainly not from the fear of losing “popularity,” as it is termed, with the people. In the very beginning of these pages I point to the difficulties which surround any private individual who offers on a great public question a detailed plan. I cannot, however, too strongly say that while in the general principles of a Federal Union I have the concurrence (evidenced by resolutions) of persons representing very different political opinions, in the details of the proposal I make I can speak for no one but myself. The outline I have sketched is, I fear, a rude and imperfect one, but it will suffice to originate discussion, and to draw out more complete suggestions. If this little tract shall be the means of directing practical attention to the subject, so as to elicit the formation of a plan of Federal Union which may recommend itself to the judgment of right-thinking men in both countries, my object will be fully
gained, and I will not regret a step by which I know I expose myself to the risk which always attends the detailed proposal of a novel project in public affairs.
If I did not believe it of the deepest importance to the cause of Ireland that the proposal of a Federal Union should be made, these pages would never have been written. As it is I offer them to the Irish people as a very sincere, although I know imperfect, effort to serve that cause of Irish Nationality with which the whole soul and heart of Ireland are
This publication may be probably the only material aid which I can render to the effort now making to win for Ireland such an amount of self-government as may give us the management of our own internal affairs. The attempt to combine, with the toilsome duties of a profession, attention to the working of any political movement, imposes too severe a strain upon the mental energies. I have, perhaps, taken my fair share in the labours and anxieties which have attended the effort to keep up the national spirit in years of depression and difficulty. I must, I am afraid, leave it to others to take up that task in easier and more pleasant times. I will rejoice to see those who do so carry to a successful issue the project, in the origination of which I shall ever, with pride, remember that I took a part.
DUBLIN, August 15th, 1870.