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Chapter XIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 2


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Shortly before the Clare election, Mr. O'Connell established the order of " Liberators," as a mode of expressing the gratitude and confidence of the people for past services. Its objects were to prevent the formation or continuance of secret societies; to conciliate all classes in one bond of brotherhood and affection, " so that all religious animosities may cease among Irishmen; " to bury in total and eternal oblivion all ancient animosities and reproaches; to prevent feuds and riots, and faction fights at fairs, markets, and patrons; to promote the collection of a national fund for national purposes; to protect voters from the vengeance of their landlords, and to watch over their registration; " to promote the system of dealing exclusively with the friends of civil and religious liberty, protestant and catholic, with the selection, where choice can be made, of protestant friends being the most disinterested of the two; also, to prevent, as much as possible, all dealing with the enemies of Ireland, whether protestant, Orangemen, or Orange catholics, the worst of all Orangists; to promote the exclusive use of articles the growth and manufacture of Ireland."

The system of exclusive dealing thus recommended was a system of social corruption and social persecution, while the attempt to serve Ireland by the exclusive use of articles of Irish produce only showed Mr. O'Connell's ignorance of political economy. The system, however, was soon abandoned.

The impression among the Roman catholics after the Clare election was, that emancipation was virtually won.

So strong was the feeling of exultation that immediately after the catholic rent reached the sum of 2,704 in one week; the next week it was 1,427; and though it soon after went to 500 a week, it showed the strength of the popular enthusiasm. Liberator clubs were established in every part of the country. They were branches of the association; but each had its own peculiar organisation, its internal management, and its working committees. By means of this machinery the whole population of the country could be moved at any moment, and in any direction. This is a very remarkable fact, taken in connection with the theory of the impulsive and fickle character of the Celtic race, their averseness to order and method, and the difficulty of getting them to pursue any course systematically. O'Connell, a man of Celtic blood, was one of the greatest methodisers of his day; and there is scarcely an example in history of any popular leader having wrought an oppressed race, consisting of six millions of people, always prone to division, into an organisation so compact that he could wield the fierce democracy at his will, and bid defiance to the most powerful state in the world to suppress the voluntary system of government he had established. This is, perhaps, the most singular and instructive fact in the whole career of the great agitator.

An impression got abroad, soon after the Clare election, that the duke of Wellington and Mr. Peel were wavering on the catholic question; and in the month of August following a profound sensation was produced by a speech made by Mr. Dawson, one of the members for Londonderry. Mr. Dawson was the brother-in- law of the home secretary, The latter represented Oxford university, having beaten Canning out of the field, as the champion of protestant ascendancy. The former represented the greatest stronghold of protestantism in Ireland, the very last of all its constituencies to tolerate a departure from its own inspiring watchword, "No surrender." Mr. Dawson had been a most uncompromising antagonist of the catholic claims. We cannot wonder, then, at the startling effect, which ran like an electric shock through the country, when such a man - a member of the government - at a public banquet, in the midst of the local chiefs of conservatism within the walls of Derry, surrounded by all the memorials of the glorious revolution of 1688, pronounced the word " Surrender." He was described as the " pilot balloon," to show the direction in which the wind blew in high quarters. His memorable speech on this occasion is part of Irish history and of English history, too; for it referred to matters which had occupied the British parliament for years, and during this year absorbed nearly the whole attention of the cabinet. It had wrecked many an administration, and the present one, with the greatest captain of modern times, was struggling among the breakers.

" I have not stayed here," said Mr. Dawson, "for a trifling object, such as to drink the glorious memory, or to cheer the 'prentice boys. It is my duty, as I am here, to state to the meeting my opinion with respect to the catholic question; and I beg the attention of this company to the condition in which, in my opinion, this subject has reduced the country. In place of an exclusive devotion to the business of life, and an industrious pursuit of the professional occupations - the only certain road to wealth and eminence - this question has made every man, from the peer to the peasant, a politician; it is the absorbing topic of every man's discourse, and it is, in consequence, the plentiful parent of exaggerated fears, of unmeasured pretensions, of personal hatred, of religious fury, of political strife, of calumny, of abuse and persecution, such as is not to be found in any other part of the civilised world. No matter what your pursuits, no matter what your disposition may be, the subject pursues you in every part of the country. It is the prevailing topic at your breakfast - table, of your dinner-table, of your supper-table. It is the subject of debate among men; it is the cause of alarm among women. It meets you at the castle of Dublin; it meets you at the house of the country gentleman; it creeps into the courts of justice; it is to be found at the grand jury; it is to be seen at the markets and fairs; it is to be found even at our places of amusement; it meets you wherever you go! Would that the evil ended here! but we may see what the mischief of such a state of things must be in the convulsed state of society, and the annihilation of all those ties upon which the well-being of society depends. The state of Ireland is an anomaly in the history of civilised nations; it has no parallel in ancient or modern history, and, being contrary to the character of all civil institutions, it must terminate in general anarchy and confusion. It is true that we have a government to which outward obedience is shown, which is responsible to parliament and answerable to God for the manner of administering its functions; but it is equally true that an immense majority of the people look up, not to the legitimate government, but to an irresponsible and to a self-constituted association for the administration of the affairs of the country. The peace of Ireland depends not upon the government of the king, but upon that of the Catholic Association. (Loud cries of " More's the shame! Why not put it down? ") It; has defied the government, and trampled upon the law of the land, and it is beyond contradiction that the same power that banished a cabinet minister from the representation of his county, because he was a minister of the king, can maintain or disturb the peace of the country just as it suits their caprice or ambition. The danger impends over every institution established by law. The church enjoys its dignity, and the clergy enjoy their revenues by the law of the land; but we know not how soon it may please the Catholic Association to issue their anathema against the payment of tithes; and what man is hardy enough to say that the catholic will disobey its mandates? It depends upon the Catholic Association, no man can deny it, whether the clergy are to receive their incomes or not. (Uproar.) The condition of landlords is not more consoling. Already they have been robbed of their influence over their tenantry - already they have become mere cyphers upon their estates; nay, in many places they are worse than cyphers; they have been forced to become the tools of their domineering masters, the catholic priesthood - and it depends upon a single breath, a single resolution of the Catholic Association, whether the landlords are to be robbed of their rents or not. So perfect a system of organisation was never yet achieved by any body not possessing the legitimate powers of government. It is powerful, it is arrogant - it derides and it has triumphed over the enactments of the legislature, and is filling its coffers from the voluntary contributions of the people. What I say is, that the Catholic Association, by securing the voluntary contributions of the people, consolidated to itself a power by which it may supply the sinews of war, or undermine, by endless litigation and persecution, the established institutions of the country. Such is the power of this new phenomenon; and I will ask any man has it been slow to exercise its influence? In every place where the catholic population predominates, it is all powerful and irresistible; it has subdued two-thirds of Ireland by its denunciations, more completely than Oliver Cromwell or king William ever subdued the country by the sword. The aristocracy, the clergy, the gentry, are all prostrate before it. In those devoted regions, a perfect abandonment of all the dignity and influence belonging to station and rank seems to have taken place; or, if a struggle be made, as in Clare, it is only to insure the triumph of this daring autocrat. In those parts of Ireland where the protestant and catholic population is pretty equally divided, the same influence is felt, if not in so exaggerated a degree, at least so mischievously, that comfort and security are alike uncertain. Amongst the two classes we see distrust and suspicion, a perfect alienation from each other in sentiment and habit, and an ill-suppressed desire to measure each other's strength by open warfare. The institutions of society are reviled, the predominance of authority is lost, the confidence of the people in the impartiality of the courts of justice is certainly much impaired, the magistracy is condemned or supported as it is supposed to lean to the Orangemen or the Roman catholics, and even trade and barter are regulated by the same unhappy distinctions of religious feeling. Such, gentlemen, is really the true picture of this country - a country possessing every material, by the bounty of God and the intelligence of the natives, to become great, powerful, and wealthy; but in which every hope is blasted and every exertion frustrated by the unhappy dissensions of its inhabitants. And now, gentlemen, it is time to ask ourselves the question, What must be the result of such a disordered state of things, and such a complete overthrow of all the relations of society? Some gentlemen will say, Rebellion; and the sooner it comes the sooner we shall be able to crush it. (Loud cheers, which lasted several minutes.) Now, I entertain a very different opinion. It is not the interest, and I believe it is not the wish, of the Roman catholic leaders to drive the people into rebellion. We have the best security for the purity of their intentions in that respect, in the stake they hold in the country, and in the moral conviction that they would be the first victims of a rebellion. If a rebellion should take place, it will not be from the orders or example of the Roman catholic leaders (hisses), but from the readiness of the two contending parties to come into conflict with each other, and from the total impossibility of checking the ebullition of popular frenzy if the two parties be goaded and exasperated against each other by inflammatory speeches or exaggerated misrepresentations. But the result will be a state of society far worse than rebellion; it will be a revolution - a revolution, not effected by the sword, but by undermining the institutions of 'the country, and involving every establishment, civil, political, and religious. There never was a time when the whole catholic body - and it signifies very little whether their numbers be two millions or six millions - there never was a time when the whole body was so completely roused and engrossed by political passions as the present. They found out the value of union; they had put in practice the secret of combination; they feel a confidence in the support of numbers; they have laid prostrate the pomp and power of wealth; they have contended against the influence of authority and the decrees of the legislature; they have enjoyed an easy triumph over both."

Thus, there was a complete accordance between Mr. Sheil, the eloquent and audacious agitator, and Mr. Dawson, one of the ablest and most loyal ministers of the crown, as to the victorious power of the Catholic Association. But to have its triumphs thus proclaimed on the very spot where protestant ascendancy had been established 140 years before, and which had ever since remained its greatest stronghold, was more than could be borne by men who had just been drinking with enthusiasm "The glorious, pious, and immortal memory" of William III. Mr. Dawson was, therefore, reviled and execrated; he was burned in effigy, and for years his name was almost as odious to the Orangemen as Lundy, the traitor. Hitherto, the agitation on both sides had been little better than child's- play. The protestant party rested satisfied in the persuasion that "the constitution in church and state" was safe in the keeping of a thoroughly conservative government - a house of lords which would not change the laws of England, and a sovereign who would not violate his coronation oath. But when they found their standard- bearers fainting, and their most trusted commanders parleying with the enemy, their exasperation knew no bounds. The Brunswickers were now terribly in earnest. Their blood was up, and they longed for the arbitrament of the sword.

The agitation extended to England, where also the "no popery " cry was effectually raised. The duke of Newcastle, lord Winchelsea, and lord Kenyon led the way in the formation of Brunswick clubs. A great demonstration was got up on Penenden Heath - a monster meeting of English Brunswickers. To counteract its effects, it was determined that some of the leading advocates of the catholic cause, being freeholders of Kent, should go to the meeting. Among those who attended were lord Darnley, Mr. Cobbett, sergeant Shee, and Mr. Sheil; but none of them could obtain a hearing. Mr. Sheil had come prepared with a grand speech, carefully written out, as was his custom, and committed to memory, but not so strictly as to exclude such extemporaneous additions as might be necessary to adapt the oration to the actual circumstances. When he arrived at the meeting, the reporter from the Sun asked him for his manuscript, which he gave, with the understanding that he must make it correspond with his speech as delivered. The reporter, taking it for granted that it would be delivered all right, made all possible haste to get it into type. The speech appeared in extenso; but it unfortunately happened that, owing to the uproar and continued interruptions, it was not delivered. The circumstance became the subject of universal remark, and elicited comments by no means flattering to the Irish orator. The speech, however, was as able as any he had ever delivered, It consisted chiefly of an elaborate defence of the Roman catholic church from the charge of persecution. It admitted that it did persecute like every other church when in power; but that it was an incident of its establishment, not the natural result of its spirit and principles.

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Pictures for Chapter XIV, of Cassells Illustrated History of England, Volume 7 page 2

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