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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 54

The Question of Religious Freedom

The Question of Religious Freedom.

Before this land question, permit me to deal with the bearing of the religious question on it, too. It is perfectly true that religious grievances in Ireland have been annihilated in words, but they have hardly been so completely annihilated in fact, and certainly the wrong already existing has not been remedied.

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Take the very passing of the Roman Catholic Disabilities Act. It was passed only on the pressure of the Duke of Wellington, on the pressure of war. The Conservatives were moved by no sense of justice. George, when he was Regent, George, when he was King, had mocked the Irish, sometimes with fine words, and, as he changed his mistresses, so he changed his policy towards them. George went to Ireland once, but did he in any sort of fashion think that any measure of justice was due to them? Read the inner records of his life, not the stories they print for children to read in our schools. Read the Duke of Buckingham's letters, read Lord Castlereagh's correspondence, read the letters of the Duke of Wellington which are published, the State papers which have come to light out of dead men's boxes since, but not what we give our children to teach them how good we have been; read where all our rascalities are printed in white pages. (Applause.) But even the Roman Catholic disabilities, although repealed in word are not repealed in reality. I ask anyone to look for twenty years after the repeal of the Roman Catholic Disabilities Bill, and tell me whether the Roman Catholic voters had a right to exercise their votes. Conviction followed conviction; notice to quit followed notice to quit. The bulk of the administrators of the law were Protestants. In dealing with these questions, I shall deal with them on the authority of the Edinburgh Review. I will not take the language of anyone who might mislead you. I will not take the language of an Irishman, or the statements of a patriot. I will not take even the evidence of a writer writing in passion. I will take the evidence of the cold and critical Edinburgh Review, which deals with the state of things down to 1851. This journal says that the Roman Catholic had no chance of justice before a Protestant legislature that dealt with him. Commissions have been issued and evidence has been accumulated on it, and so it has gone. Take the question of the tithe collection.

Our good and kind George collected the tithes at the point of the bayonet. Do you want the story of the widow's son, who tried to defend his mother's only cow, and with his life, from the church of love to which he or the people did not belong? Would you prefer to read the letters of King William, which are extant now, written to Lord Grey or to Lord Wellington, in which he expresses page 41 the hope that the Irish may he induced to resist the collection of the tithes by officers, so that there may be an excuse for using the army against them? I ask you, can you wonder at the very shame that stops my utterance when I, as an Englishman, plead all these things? Even the Irish Church Disestablishment—how shall I tell you? The Archbishop of Canterbury, in the House of Lords, had the audacity to say that he was there to plead against the proposition of religious equality, and the Bishop of Peterborough, with frankness and neatness, asked his fellow-bishops to throw out the Bill, "for it is self-preservation I am putting to you". (Laughter.)

When they suspected a man of being a United Irishman they hung him on his door to induce him to confess; if he did not confess they hung him until he died, and if he confessed he was hung too. (Laughter.) Read the Courier, the Cambridge Intelligencer—I do not ask you to read Irish papers, to read the speech of the Shearers, or the defence of Fitzgerald, the potent words of Curran, the fiery language of Grattan—I ask you to read the English journals, read the speeches of the House of Lords itself, and read the protest of eighteen Lords who admitted that we burned houses. There is a story that a militiamen came to arrest a man, and that, not finding him at home, he gave his wife notice that if he were not at home in three hours he would burn the house around her; and when the man came back he found his home in cinders, his wife dishonored, and the children dead. Why, I would have preached rebellion from one end of the country to the other, if I had been alive. (Great applause.) I have not time to deal with the question of the act of union; I am one who confesses that my respect for law does not extend to statutes; I draw a distinction between law and statute. There is many a statute passed that is not law. There is many a statute on our own Statute Book at home so illegal that public opinion stops in the way of its enforcement. How has agitation been met in Ireland? In England we have open agitation; in Ireland they are obliged to break out in revolt. Why, my own journal, which may be published in London, is not permitted to be published in Dublin. The very things which I say without fear of imprisonment or prosecution in London a man is arrested for if he says in Cork. Printing offices have been seized within the last three or four years in Ireland, and papers, too; and my own journal, which has printed things much stronger, is page 42 sold openly in the streets, and no one dares to prevent it, (Applause.) Why? Because I am in England, why should there be that difference? Does any peculiar virtue exist in a corporal of the guard that is not possessed by a private? (Laughter.) Why, is not it this very distinction of corporal of the guard and private that made you thus act? Have not you always tried to make the Irish feel that they were inferior; that you should and would hold them? And yet, when the hour of danger has come, when England has been in despair, to whom has she appealed?—to those lusty arms to help her in her fight for her redemption.

In Hyde Park we hold a demonstration of thousands of people. The Government forbids it, but subsequently swallows their order to that effect. It has troops to prevent it, and actually marches them back again where they came from. But in Phoenix Park, in Dublin, it is a different matter. There they are dispersed by force, as I contend, illegally, and as the law justifies me in contending; i am against—utterly against—decidedly against the initiative by force of revolution, but I conceive it to be a duty of one's manhood if the rights of one's country be assailed, to defend them, even to the shedding of the last drop of blood of those who dared to wrest them from you. (Applause.) This is the doctrine Sidney taught, that Hampden fought for; this is the doctrine that Cromwell drew the sword to win, and I cannot understand how crossing the Irish Channel makes that wicked on the one side which on our side is chronicled as the highest virtue.

But how was that agitation met? No one can dare to say it was disorderly or violent. The very reporters who went there were accommodated with seats. There was no violence used against them, although the men were known to be men employed to give evidence of what they did. I believe the worst thing that Daniel O'Connell ever did was to make a speech in Irish, which the reporters did not understand. (Laughter.) I have read carefully the evidence taken in the trial of O'Connell and of those who stood at the bar with him. There is no pretence of saying that any violence was used at those meetings, but, because they were mighty demonstrations of the force of the nation, the men who took part in them were indicted for levying war against the Queen. We hear of similar meetings to compel the Reform Bill. Earl Granville ad- page 43 mitted in the House of Lords that they had been compelled to pass it—to pass a measure they regarded as revolutionary, by reason of the pressure brought to bear from archbishops down to revenue gaugers. We bought and terrified. There was one voice of eloquent protest against it—even in the Dublin Parliament itself. It came late, but it was better late than never. It came from a dying man, but a man whose dying voice had more power and eloquence in it when he was dying than the mightiest roll of eloquence that could come from Mirabeau, Danton, or O'Connell, in the greatest force—a man who was not in Parliament when the debate began, whom the Government thought they could keep out. They sent the writ too late to bring him there, but the people had the returning-officer out in the night, and they had the election in a hurry, and they hurried to Dublin as fast as they could go. What did they carry? A man whose face was wan; whose blood was growing pale; death had commenced to drag him into the grave he soon fell into. But he was a mighty man, whatever faults he had; and when the history of Ireland's redemption by her own sons is written, as I believe one day it will and may, then, greater than many a man who fought with pike will come the man who fought with pen and tongue—Henry Grattan's name must find a place. (Tremendous applause.) He was carried into the House. He only arose to speak, and it was the consciousness of what he pleaded for that gave him force in speaking, and he pleaded against that union as against an unholy one. And so it was that he made the division wider, and kept us more apart. If I come to speak on this question now, it is because I speak here to Irishmen as well as to Americans. John Stuart Mill well said, when speaking upon Mr. Maguire's motion: "There are circumstances which make dissatisfaction more alarming now than in any period since the rebellion of '98. For the first time the discontent in Ireland rests on a background of several millions of Irish across the Atlantic." And it is because there are millions of Irish in America that I come here, not pretending to have any right to be heard at their hands, not pretending to have any claim to favor in their hearing, admitting that many a story might come against me, and that prejudice might be laid against me; I come to plead for them because I believe that in the future, which is very near, our cause is their cause and their cause is our cause; and that in uniting all together page 44 we shall get a deliverance which otherwise will be kept from us for many a day to come. I come here as an Englishman, and, if in what I say now Irishmen should disagree with me, I can only say to you as I did to the Englishman who disagreed with me before: "Here is the place to answer. Don't keep your doubt imprisoned in your own breast, but speak it out, so that I can hear it."