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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 84



As was the case in Ireland just at this period, so it was in America. Things were very much out of gear. Dissensions and opposition by different cliques to the different methods employed "to free Ireland," had left matters in a complete state of disorganisation. But if there were spirits like Parnell and Davitt in Ireland anxious to make some forward movement of a strong and determined type; there were not to be found wanting in America men of similar ways of thinking, and of ready capacity to fall in with, and work the idea. The movement, too, was exceedingly well-timed, for just at the moment old men were being discredited, and younger and more daring tempers were coming to the front. O'Donovan Rossa was fast losing his influence, and men like John Devoy, convicted of swearing British soldiers into the Fenian organisation; John Breslin, at one time a Government official in Kilmainham Prison, who had played false to his trust and assisted the Fenian chief, James Stephens, to escape; General Bourke, who had headed a Fenian rising, been sentenced to death, and subsequently amnestied; and others of a similar type, were taking the reins in hand. The characters and intentions of these men can be fully appreciated when it is stated that they were the trustees of a fund called the "Skirmishing Fund," subscribed by the Irish Americans for the purpose of damaging the page 12 Empire in every possible way, blowing-up public buildings (for even at this time—1878—dynamite was talked of), assassinating obnoxious individuals, and like methods of "warfare." They were typical Extremists in thought, word, and deed. But all the same they were not averse to joining hands with the Irish leaders for the purpose of becoming more powerful, and subsequently subordinating the views of these others to their own.

An understanding was soon arrived at between the Constitutionalists [Messrs. Davitt, Parnell, and others] on the one side, and the Irish-American representatives on the other; and public indication was soon given of the lines of the "new Departure." Mr. Parnell, as became his new position, was the first to lead off. Speaking at a Home Rule Convention in Dublin, he fiercely assailed the policy hitherto acted upon by Mr. Butt, declared for thorough-going "obstruction" in Parliament; and delivered a remarkable speech, marked throughout by the fierce hatred of Imperialism, of which mention has already been made. "We have been told," said Mr. Parnell, "that the Irish have lain down like dogs under the heels of the English. That Ireland has given up the contest she has carried on so long. Have we given it up? I don't believe it. I don't believe we have given up that fight. I believe you want that fight carried on The country has seen the men of energy and activity encumbered by inactivity and obstruction [this was not Parliamentary obstruction], and they have felt it was almost hopeless to work under present circumstances and present conditions." England, he went on to explain, had given Ireland the power of a franchise equal to her own, and she should now either cast about her for some method of depriving Ireland of this weapon or give Ireland her rights. "She cannot recede from the issue," he continued, "she must either give yours [rights] or surrender her own. There is no option, no escape for her. ... I said when I was last on this platform, that I would not promise anything by Parliamentary action for any particular line of policy, but I said we could help you to punish the English; and predicted that the English would very soon get afraid of the policy of punishment. And so he boasted of English hatred, and the crippling of the British Legislative procedure to willing ears.

Mr. Parnell, having kept his part of the bargain and broken with page 13 Mr. Butt and the Moderates of the Constitutional side of the agitation, the Irish-Americans were not slow to fulfil theirs. Accordingly a despatch was immediately cabled to Mr. Parnell, signed by the men already referred to, and running in the following terms:—"The Nationalists here will support you on the following conditions : 1. Abandonment of the Federal demand and substitution of a general declaration of self-government. 2. Vigorous agitation of the land question on the basis of a peasant proprietary, while accepting concessions tending to abolish arbitrary eviction. 3. Exclusion of all sectarian issues from the platform. 4. Irish Members to vote together on all Imperial and home questions, adopt an aggressive policy, and energetically resist coercive legislation. 5. Advocacy of all struggling nationalities in the British Empire and elsewhere."