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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 54


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Knowing Mr. Bradlaugh to be persistently and constantly misrepresented—not only by the Irish press generally, but by the national press, and the Irish national Parliamentary party in particular—I deem it due to the Irish people, as well as to himself, to place before them some absolute facts as to what he has said and how he has voted upon Irish questions.

In doing this I am anxious not to lay myself open to the charge of presumption. I am fully aware that there is no man living who could state his case more forcibly than Charles Bradlaugh, but being one of the people, and knowing to some considerable extent what their feelings are upon, this matter, I thought I might do some good in showing the Irish people generally the light in which it is viewed by those who are willing, and who have the power, to help them. Because after all is said and done, it is by the votes of the people that not only what is called the "Bradlaugh question" but the Irish question itself will eventually have to be settled.

If the facts I purpose laying before you are doubted or contradicted, by anyone whomsoever, I ask you to remember that their truthfulness does not depend upon statements made by any party or leaders of a party. They are—I speak now of Mr. Bradlaugh's votes and speeches in the House—simple matters of Parliamentary history, and cannot by any kind of prejudice or animosity be made otherwise. This can be verified by reference to "Hansard", which gives the words uttered and votes recorded by members of Parliament upon all questions debated in the House. page 4 Therefore, i any person—even your most trusted leaders—should again seek to misrepresent Mr. Bradlaugh, and mislead you, by telling you that he is politically an enemy of Ireland; that he is a "Coercionist"; that he voted against Ireland, etc. etc.; I ask you in justice to yourselves and to him, to Demand that he who so tells you, no matter who he may be, shall prove his charge from the official and undoubted record to which I have referred. Do not be misled by falsehoods. Do not be induced to do an injustice to a man whoso only crime is that he cannot think in matters of religion as you do; but who has nevertheless raised his voice loudly and fearlessly, both in and out of Parliament, in condemnation of what he conceived to be your wrongs. In doing this he has risked, and in some cases lost, the goodwill of those who might otherwise have stood his friends. Do not, then, basely return evil for good. Dare to be just in this matter. He does not seek favor at your hands, nor at anyone's hands. He would scorn to beg, for that which he knows he should demand as a right. That right, which he now demands, is simple, but full citizenship. And I warn you that if this rightful demand be refused by you through your representatives in Parliament, under any pretext whatsoever, you are, by such refusal, setting up an example and a precedent which may one day annihilate every vestige of that religious freedom which you now enjoy. It would be an evil day for you, and for all who are not of the dominant faith, if the principle of the odious religious tests were once again established.

Cardinal Manning would do well to bear this in mind, when he is again tempted to coerce those over whom he exercises ecclesiastical control into inflicting a wrong upon others similar to that from which his own people suffered so grievously in the past.

One of the great principles of the struggle in which Mr. Bradlaugh is engaged is to render for ever impossible the re-imposition of those tests which weighed so heavily upon you, and the abolition of which opened the doors of honorable membership and office to you, by freeing your consciences from those shackles which you now endeavor to force upon his.

You doubtless think, and rightly think, that it was glorious for O'Connell to wipe from the Statute Book those page 5 clauses which enslaved and insulted your own consciences, and the consciences of your co-religionists. Is it then less glorious to grant to this man the freedom which O'Connell won for you? Nay; hut is it not degrading on your part to seek to place round his neck the yoke which galled you so sorely, and which—but for the efforts of men who, though not going so far as he does, yet travelled in the same direction—would have continued to gall you down to the present moment? For you must remember that O'Connell won Catholic emancipation by the aid of men whose sense of justice and right rose above this creed or that dogma. And he certainly won it in opposition and defiance of that party with which your representatives of to-day are, upon this question, in unnatural alliance.

The work which Messrs. Parnell, Churchill, and Co. have joined hands to do is to crush the conscience of a man, deprive him of his civil rights, and through him destroy the civil rights of a constituency which has elected him no less than four times. In doing this they are striking a blow which, if allowed to take effect, would be fatal to the first and most fundamental principle of the Constitution; which is, that we govern ourselves through those whom we elect to represent us in Parliament. This, however, the English Tories and the Irish Nationalists, aided by some few who disgrace the name of "Liberal", are prepared to do, in order to prevent what they sham-piously call "the profanation of the oath"; but this in reality means that both parties are simply full of religious hatred—which hatred, on the Tory side for certain, is leavened with fears of a much more real and substantial nature. They both cordially hate and mistrust each other; but are willing to sink that hatred and mistrust and join forces in order to crush one man. With the Tories this is but natural. They have reasons of a more—to them—alarming character than the "profanation of the oath" for keeping him out. But with the Irish Nationalists the case is different: with them it is not only unnatural, but it is ungrateful, as well as being a most serious mistake. It lies with the Radicals and the true Liberals of both countries—I think Scotland upon the whole can be relied upon—to see that the danger with which this strange and "unholy alliance" is fraught, shall be averted.

I say most solemnly that the people of these islands are page 6 not worthy of their history and traditions, if they suffer themselves to be thus deprived of their political existence by the alliance of sordid fear on the one hand, and on the other ingrate fanaticism. These may be strong words, but the spectacle of one man toiling incessantly for six weary years against such forces demands strong words. But it also demands strong actions, which, if I mistake not, will be taken.

To the Tories—to those high and sublime (?) creatures who regard us, the people, as "the mob" and "the scum"—I do not here appeal. But I would ask Irishmen of all creeds to think well of this matter, and not to allow religious bias to influence their judgment. I put it to them that Mr. Bradlaugh does but dare to think as his conscience bids him. He not only admits that you have an inalienable right to do the same, but would insure your perfect liberty by law to do so. In the address which he has recently issued to the electors of Finsbury he says:" I hold that the duty of the State is to be impartial to all forms of thought, Protecting in Their all Those Who Think it Their Duty to Worship, but giving privilege to no one sect, and imposing no penalty or disability for non-belief on any." I appeal to your sense of right, to your sense of freedom and fair play; and I ask you if this is not just and honorable, as between man and man? He can no more help his non-belief than you can your belief; then why punish him for it? His sincerity and intelligence lead him in one direction, and yours lead you in another. But he would not by force deprive you of one single article of your faith, nor of one atom of your civil rights, by reason of that faith. Why, then, should you seek to deprive him of his civil rights—to worse than outlaw him—because he has honestly said he cannot accept that faith? For shame, Christians! Shall it be said that you cannot afford to be as just as the Atheist? Do you think it just and noble to crush a man, through your press and through your representatives in Parliament, who has for more than a quarter of a century written and spoken for juster laws for your country—a man who has denounced his own Government for wrongs inflicted upon your people? If you answer that you do not desire his advocacy; that you will not accept his labors and his pleadings for your welfare; that you prefer his silence; then I reply, Be page 7 silent yourselves; do not go out of your way to injure a man whose services you cannot accept. If you cannot reward his services, at least do not be base enough to punish him for them. If you cannot conscientiously ask your representatives to speak and vote for his admission to that seat which is his by right, have the justice—I will not say the charity—to demand that they be silent. If you may not bid them raise their voices for constitutional freedom, you have the right, as you ought to have the courage, to command their silence.

I would here point out the absurdity of refusing the admittance, upon religious grounds, of a so-called Atheist to take part in the legislation of his country, and at the same time of admitting Jews, who, you must as Christians and Catholics know, hold your Savior to have been a blasphemer and a criminal, and to have deserved the death to which he was put upon the cross. Do you really think a Jew more worthy of a seat by your side, and in your Council Chambers, than an Atheist? One says that the second person of your Godhead was a rank imposter; and the other, that the existence of your God, as defined by yourselves, is not proven. Sit down with the Jew by all means, take him to your bosoms if you will, and even allow him to help you make Christian laws. To me, his rights are as sacred as yours are, or as my own; but do not inconsistently close the doors against one who is in reality nearer to you than he is; whose right to be whore you are is at least equal to that of either; and whose claim, by virtue of his unimpeached elections, is four-fold.

If you tell me that your bitter hostility towards Mr. Bradlaugh is not due to religious animosity or religious scruples, but that your vote is cast against him because his votes have been cast against you, I will, discarding the bitterly religious speeches and articles which have been levelled against him by your press and by your political leaders, answer you with his recorded votes and speeches, which give the lie direct to the charge. But first let me frankly state that I do not believe the people of Ireland, and the Irish people in England generally, really know what Mr. Bradlaugh has actually said and done upon questions affecting their country. I myself heard him deliver a discourse upon the wrongs of Ireland, and how best to redress them, as far back as 1866. I have no record page 8 of that lecture, but I know it equalled, if it did not exceed, in sympathy, in courage, in out-spokenness and honesty of purpose, any speech—and I have heard many—made by your present leaders. At any rate, if you take the time, the nationality of the lecturer, and the subjects dealt with, you must—prejudice notwithstanding—admit that he deserves something better at your hands than calumny and hard words. If you do not admit this, if you think otherwise, I can only reply that I am sorry for the depravity of your thinking.

I may add that the lecture to which I am referring was delivered in Dublin, and also that I am happy to be able to state that upon that occasion he was publicly thanked for his services to Ireland.

I only mention the above lecture and its incidents as a fact which comes to my mind as I write. Mr. Bradlaugh's vindication shall rest upon more substantial ground than my recollections. It shall rest, first, upon his votes and speeches whilst he sat in the House of Commons; and secondly, upon a few quotations from such of his utterances upon Irish questions as I happen to have at hand; and lastly and especially, upon a lecture which he delivered in America in the year 1873, and which I put before the Irish people with the greatest possible pleasure. Indeed, my intention originally was to put this particular lecture before them as a complete answer to the misrepresentations and slanders which are heaped upon him; because it is in the nature of a set and comparatively complete statement upon the Irish question in general.

It is, however, quite impossible that this lecture, able and generous as it is, shall satisfy everybody. It is possible that it will not satisfy those to whom I specially plead. I know it will not satisfy what is called the extreme party—the party who advocate complete separation. But then the Parnellite party, as I understand them, do not advocate the total separation of the two countries; if they do, it is done sub rosa. Short of complete separation, and giving Mr. Parnell credit for sincerity in that respect, I should say, judging by his public utterances and those of Mr. Bradlaugh, that the latter is prepared to go as far as the former in matters which can fairly be claimed to come under the head of self-government. Of course I give this as my opinion only, founded at the same time upon the page 9 public statements of both. But you must bear in mind that it is not really a question of who will go the farthest; nor even is it a question of whether Mr. Bradlaugh goes far enough. The real question at issue is, Do his words and actions entitle him to be regarded as your friend, or do they justify you in the bitter hostility you display towards him? But at the back of this question there is another, and perhaps a more serious one: suppose you do not agree with his principles, either political or otherwise, and, notwithstanding that his advocacy of your cause runs so nearly parallel with your own, you nevertheless feel justified in treating him as a political opponent, does that warrant you in straining the law and the usages of the House in order to deprive him of his political status? Most emphatically, No! He would strain the law—if at all—to give you greater freedom; or for mercy, as in the case of the political prisoners. But apart from that, can you injure, ignore, or stultify the vote of the people without directly injuring your own cause? Your cause, as I understand it, is the people's cause. You must not, then, strike a blow at their just and lawful power through their chosen representative because you dislike him, or disagree with him, or for God's sake, or for spite's sake, or for any other cause whatsoever. I blush to admit that in this matter you have almost the entire strength of one of the great English parties; but they would use their strength to crush your freedom, after they had used you to help crush the vote and freedom of the people of Northampton.

I am aware that your plan is to use, in so far as you can, both the English parties in the House, for your own purposes and advantage. But take care that those purposes are legitimate; in using your power be careful that you do not sacrifice the principle of right, and the sentiment of gratitude.

I am not now speaking of gratitude to England as a nation; but I am speaking of gratitude to one of that nation—one who has labored for many years in thought, word, and deed for the good of your country.

These things deserve your serious attention, although I will pursue them no further here, but will direct your attention to Mr. Bradlaugh's recorded actions in connexion with Irish questions.

I will take his votes and speeches in the House first, page 10 because they are more recent, and the events attending them may possibly be in the minds of many of you.