Page images

tection-the roots of its influence shot deeper and wider, bound the shifting sands of popular opinion, and gave stability and dignity to the national character. Along with the sense of increased power and responsibility, the prudent boldness of the Association increased—the debates grew in splendour. But, with every reef shaken out, great care was taken to lay in balJast, to bolt and cramp the timbers together, and enable them to resist the strain upon them. While every oppression was assaulted, the law was scrupulously respected, and the strictest observance of it enjoined on the people, as their surest and broadest shield. All objections to its power were quashed by the use made of it. Under the influence of the Association, insurrection subsided rapidly, outrage was repressed, justice was procured for the poor, and a salutary fear struck into the authorities of every rank, which by a more impartial discharge of their duty contributed to the general peace. The fame of this Irish Parliament extended. The singularity of its nature, the extraordinary dominion it had acquired, and the eloquence of its leaders, fixed the gaze of foreign nations; France, Italy, Germany, America—from the frozen shores of Hudson's Bay to the opposite regions of cold in the southern hemispherediscussed the penal code. Even the East India newspapers took up the subject.* The struggles of the Catholics threw back a light on ancient history—they penetrated into the closet, and coloured the meditations of the student. A general execration arose. The arms with which the English character embraced the world, were chopped off. Foreign tyrants returned her taunts with tenfold contempt, and flung in her face the oppression of Ireland; others exulted at the spectacle of her weakness:—they thought of the policy which suspended by a single hair the sword of Hoche over her throat; while others entered into closer calculations, and actually sounded the dispositions of the Irish people

The Government stood aghast. Finding themselves dwindle * See the “O'Connell Tribute," amounting to 3000 pounds, remitted from India,

away daily and the weeds of disregard overspread their authority, they at length resolved to make an attempt to recover it, but without producing, in their temper or conduct, any one claim to its rightful exercise. Obedience, respect, and affection, they would readily buy with stores of the strongest incentives to hatred and contempt. To enjoy the privileges of good government without discharging any of its duties, was their great object. To pacify affront by insult, and hardship by oppression was their golden rule. To govern men in violation of justice, they asserted, was the great end of law; and Mr Goulburn, with much gravity, much opacity, and a genius fitted, by the original cast of nature, for elucidating absurdities, invited the Irish people to sit down to the table and hear him demonstrate that theorem. For three or four hours “no dog barked," while he

“ Talked about it, goddess, and about it." He covered a great extent of ground;- but it was by a device az old as the me of Dido, and with somewhat of the same material. Notwithstanding the thick light which he threw on the subject, the truth of the original proposition remained in some doubt; and it is still questioned whether government was not instituted for the good of the governed. It was when the advantages of the Association had been fully felt, and a new spirit of union and honour had bound all classes together, that, in the session of 1825, Mr. Goulburn brought in his bill for its suppression; yet, it was necessary to mask it under a general belief that it was the prelude to emancipation. This statement may now be read with much amusement-it was received then with different feelings; but the distaff of an old woman strikes with force in the hand of government. One would imagine his a sham accusation. Ile complained that no art could induce the association to violate the law, discoursed of the total absence of dissension, and duelt much on the enormity of having formed committees for procuring justice, for extending education, and levying money to carry these objects into effect. These high crimes could not be overlooked. The bill passed; but they could

not pass

obedience to it. The sense of general utility, which, and not the name of Parliament, gives a law its efficiency, was wanting. “The omnipotence of Parliament,” when applied to maintain a cruel, iniquitous oppression, shrunk before the real omnipotence of the people. In a few weeks, Mr. O'Connell “drove a coach and six through the statute.” The Association rose, with increased power, against a shamed and defeated government. To proscribe its name was foolish-to proscribe its substance without outlawing the people of Ireland, was found a hope equally ridiculous. Societies for the purpose of charity, religion, agriculture, education, were permitted in the bill, the Association might take any or all of these forms; for the system opposed was uncharitable, irreligious, fraught with injury to education, trade, and agriculture. It was established, therefore, for these, “and all other purposes not probibited by law.” A clause permitted societies for political discussion to exist no longer than fourteen days in each year. Here a battery might be erected. The position was seized; and, besides the regular meetings of the new Association, societies, combining the advantages of continuity with the vigour of temporary action, were formed. But they were not restricted to Dublin: under the name of provincial meetings, they rose in every quarter of the country successively; and thus the sessions of the Association were to be held in every town of note throughout Ireland. In this state of feeling, Parliament was dissolved. The people rose at the order of the Association. Never was there seen a more majestic movement. In Waterford, South Monaghan, Westmeath, they walked over the Tories. But what was the victory itself, compared to the sobriety, order, enthusiasm, and devotion that effected it? Persecution began. It was shocking that tenants should not periure themselves—unheard of, that they should have a country,

- monstrous, that they should think of their religion! The bishops, who knew that the gospel was preached to the rich alone, were astounded; fulminations, lay and clerical—the latter, however, of a mucb finer scarlet - went forth; but the Association existed. The new Rent was established. If a land

[ocr errors]

lord was deaf to decency and humanity, his sensations were assisted by a punch from the halberd of the law. Physicians, very skilful in their professions, applied the stethoscope to the state of his property; the oppressed breathing, which mortgages had induced, was explored, and an antiphlogistic regimen instantly adopted. They bought up the encumbrances on his property; and, if he attempted to persecute his tenantry for their votes, soon compelled him to listen to reason. If all was incffectual, the individual himself was alone to blame, that the cries of a wife and houseless children taught that law of “wild justice,” with which continued oppressions have embued the Irish peasant.

It was about this time, America sent her voice over the waters. A meeting had been held at New York, Judge Swanton in the chair, “to give.” as the resolution stated, “efficient expression to their sympathy for the oppressed, and indignation at the conduct of the oppressors” A co-operating Association, on the model of the Irish, was formed, and a rent put into process of collection. Similar meetings were held at Washington, Augusta, Boston. Some time after, it was stated in one of the addresses, that permanent boards were to be formed in every village, and that a general Congress, from all parts of the Union, was to meet at Washington, to devise the best means of assisting the Irish people. The spirit was not confined to the United States. It fell on Canada. Meetings were held in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, &c.; and Rent, the great test of sympathy, transmitted from those Colonies nearer home. On the Continent, Ireland excited an amazed interest. The spectacle, in itself so glorious, of a nation contending for its rights, had also something extraordinary in the character of the means. Men, the most unreflecting, were surprised by the novelty. They had a confused obscure feeling of the importance of the discovery; but persons of mind wide enough to embrace the subject, were startled at the new power thus introduced into the political world, and sat down to study its elements and results. The debates of the Association were translated into Italian and German; while the French, not contented with hcaring, came to see with their own eyes the working of such a

system. The formation of a heart in Ireland, shooting veins and arteries to the smallest member, furnished with all the apparatus of nerves, viscera, and absorbents, and performing its functions with the regularity of health, was a phenomenon to which, if all the circumstances be taken into consideration, no equal can be found in the physiology of society.

These testimonies naturally gave an impetus to the Association. The Rent increased, and drew, in the innumerable channels of its course, a more intense sympathy, and a more prompt, as well as regular organization. Meetings, attended with the same result, grew in number and spirit. The crown sat easier on the brows of the Association. With much coolness and me. thod, it began to consolidate its authority. A system of national education was established. The collection of the revenue was better provided for. An admirable plan, simple but effectual, charged with that responsibility two Catholic churchwardens; and, to give uniformity to the system of internal government, one was to be elected by the parish meeting in the new vestry -the other was to be appointed by the parish priest, whose masculine understanding, discretion, and patriotism, might well be entrusted with the power. Liberal and election clubs were also spread through the country; but, to exhibit, in a striking manner, the wonderful unity of feeling, the simultaneous meetings were commanded. It now became evident to all men that emancipation must pass, or the government would be, even in name, ejected from Ireland. Sober persons were astonished at the apathy of the Ministry; and loud indignation would soon have followed; for who could contemplate risking every thing dear to him, in order to uphold the continued oppression of the kingdom by a contemptible faction? Lord Anglesey, a man of ancient generosity of soul-more like a character of chivalry, than a modern soldier-was unceasing in his representations; and he was strongly seconded by every person who witnessed, with his own eyes, the state of affairsparticularly by military men, who transmitted their profound astonishment at the organization, order, peace, and spirit of the people. It was discovered that the obedience of the army

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »