The Felons Track (6)
THE SPLIT WITH MR. MITCHEL. — HIS TRIAL, CONVICTION, SENTENCE AND SPEECH. — THE “FELON” AND “TRIBUNE” ESTABLISHED. — ARREST OF MESSRS. MARTIN, O’DOHERTY, WILLIAMS AND DUFFY. — CONVICTION OF MR. MARTIN. — HIS SPEECH. — CONVICTION, SENTENCE AND SPEECH OF MR. O’DOHERTY. — DISSOLUTION OF THE CONFEDERATION. — THE LEAGUE
At the opening of the new year, which was destined to be its last, the Confederation, though yet regarded with coldness by the Catholic Hierarchy, was in full career. Its members had won the respect of every educated man in the land, however widely most of them may have differed from it in political faith. Among the middle classes of the Catholics, all that were left uncorrupted fell into its ranks, and embraced its belief. Men began to regard as possible everything which enthusiasm advanced with such unhesitating courage and devoted self-sacrifice. Mr. Mitchel delivered some lectures on land tenure and the poor-law system, which startled thoughtful and unthinking men alike. He had previously made an able and sincere effort in the Irish Council to compel the landlord class to some redeeming act of good sense and good will, which their own true interests required as well as the agonies of the starving tenantry. He was met by ignorance, stolidity and scorn. A timid and narrow measure of improvement in the relation between landlord and tenant had been proposed, and ably supported by Messrs. Ferguson, Ireland and O’Loghlen; and such was the obstinate aversion to all amelioration, on the part of the landlords, that they abstained from resisting Mr. Mitchel’s amendment, lest they would be thereby committed to the milder reform proposed by Mr. Ferguson. His motion was lost only by a majority of two several of the five-pound Repeal representatives, who brawled at tenant-right meetings, and one member of the Confederation, Mr. M’Gee, being included in the majority.
The result of the division produced a marked change in Mr. Mitchel’s career. His lectures on land-tenure in Europe, displayed the bold outlines and distinctive characteristics of his principles. His hopes from the Irish landlords, of whatever shade of politics, had ever afterwards vanished. He believed them incapable of being influenced by commonsense or good feeling; and he turned to the people, with full confidence in their fidelity and strength. All further attempts to conciliate the upper classes, he regarded as foolish, feeble and cowardly. He continued to reassert the substance of his lectures in another form, in the pages of the Nation, of which he was at the time editor-in-chief—that is, of which he wrote the greatest portion, especially of its leading articles. Some of these articles gave rise to a difference of opinion between him and Mr. Duffy, who, as responsible owner and editor, had the sole control of the Nation. There were not wanting men to take advantage of the difference and fan the flame. Charles Duffy had messages conveyed to him, to the effect that a rumour was abroad charging him with treachery; and to John Mitchel, perhaps by the same agents of dissension, it was stated that he, too, was suspected. It is unfortunately characteristic of Irishmen to be suspicious; and it was the object of one of Mr. O’Connell’s eternal lessons to perpetuate and extend this degrading national vice. Whether the representations made to either of these friends were the result of national prejudice, or proceeded from a baser motive, it is scarce worth while to inquire. A separation ensued. Mr. Reilly adopted the resolution of his friend Mr. Mitchel. Mr. M’Gee adhered to Mr. Duffy; and a new career and distinct fortunes opened to the enterprise of the four men, whose united efforts elevated the popularity of the Nation to a height never before enjoyed by an Irish journal.
The early differences between the two great journalists suggested to Mr. Duffy, and to others, the necessity of drawing up a programme for the guidance of the Confederation. A committee was appointed, consisting of several members, including all the leading advocates of both the policy of Mr. Duffy and that of Mr. Mitchel. The report was principally the production of Mr. Duffy. It was in part modified by others; but Mr. Mitchel, who objected to its principle, refused to take any part in its modification. It was afterwards submitted to the council of the Confederation; and there gave rise to a long, earnest and, to some extent, an angry discussion. It was under consideration for several successive nights, the debate lasting sometimes until three o’clock in the morning. The principle of the report embraced the belief that moral means and agencies to effect Ireland’s liberties were not yet exhausted, and should be further tried; and the agencies through which the experiment was to be tested were indicated in detail. The principle of the amendment proposed by Mr. Mitchel involved a preparation for and an appeal to arms as the only resource available to the country. After a long and anxious debate, the question of adopting the report passed in the affirmative by a considerable majority. The details then came under discussion, and, paragraph by paragraph, alterations were proposed and adopted. The discussion on these matters was still more prolonged and vehement. The principle of the entire was questioned indirectly by various amendments of form; but it was always affirmed by a majority. The report had, however, undergone such modifications and alterations that its original promoters lost all interest in its passing; and at the final stage, it was rejected, as well as I remember, without a division. At all events, it was rejected, and, I believe, with the concurrence of Mr. Duffy, who afterwards published the original draft in the Nation.
It was on that occasion the celebrated resolutions, afterwards the subject of the three nights’ discussion at the Rotunda, were drafted and proposed by Mr. O’Brien. They were at once adopted, Mr. Mitchel alone dissenting. This may be the fittest opportunity distinctly and definitely to settle the question, which has recently arisen, in reference to these resolutions. On the several occasions of Mr. Duffy’s trial, they have been given in evidence as proof of his loyalty, on the assumption that they emanated from him, and that it was through his influence the body was led to adopt them. Again, it seems to have been inferred—indeed, it has been so stated repeatedly, by persons who boast of his confidence—that it was owing to his arrest and absence from the council of the Confederation, that measure of fatal rashness was adopted, of which he became the first victim; although it was his discretion and ability that kept the “Jacquerie,” who then obtained the ascendant, in check from the beginning.
This is partly a statement of fact, and partly an inference. The fact is not true, and the inference is fallacious. The resolutions were not Mr. Duffy’s. On the contrary, one main object with those who adopted them, without discussion, was to avoid the expression of an opinion on several abstract principles forming the groundwork of his report. Secondly, he exercised little or no influence in the debate which led to their adoption by the Confederation. Thirdly, they were warmly sustained by the influence, personal and otherwise, as well as by the exertion and ability of the very men who, according to a recent contemptible sneer, “improvised a revolution.” Every one of them, Mr. O’Brien, Mr. Meagher, Mr. Dillon, Mr. O’Gorman, and myself, spoke in favour of them, and against Mr. Mitchel’s amendment. And, finally, even if this were not so and that the rashness of the outbreak really involved deep culpability, Mr. Duffy cannot claim exemption from his share of the blame.
“Resolved: That inasmuch as letters, published by two members of this Council, have brought into question the principles of the Irish Confederation, and have given rise to an imputation that we are desirous to produce a general disorganisation of society in this country, and to overthrow social order, we deem it right again to place before the public the following fundamental rule, as that which constitutes the basis of action proposed to our fellow-countrymen, by the Irish Confederation:—
“That a society be now formed, under the title of ‘The Irish Confederation,’ for the purpose of protecting our national interests, and obtaining the legislative independence of Ireland, by the force of opinion, by the combination of all classes of Irishmen, and the exercise of all the political, social and moral influences within our reach.
“II. That (under present circumstances) the only hope of the liberation of this country lies in a movement in which all classes and creeds of Irishmen shall be fairly represented, and by which the interests of none shall be endangered.
“III. That inasmuch as English legislation threatens all Irishmen with a common ruin, we entertain a confident hope their common necessities will speedily unite Irishmen in an effort to get rid of it.
“VII. That, in protesting against the disarmament of the Irish people, under the Coercion Bill lately enacted, and in maintaining that the right to bear arms, and to use them for legitimate purposes, is one of the primary attributes of liberty, we have had no intention or desire to encourage any portion of the population of this country in the perpetration of crimes, such as those which have recently brought disgrace upon the Irish people; and which have tended, in no trifling degree, to retard the success of our efforts in the cause of national freedom.
“VIII. That to hold out to the Irish people the hope that, in this present broken and divided condition, they can liberate their country by an appeal to arms, and consequently to divert them from constitutional action, would be, in our opinion, a fatal misdirection of the public mind.
“IX. That this Confederation was established to obtain an Irish Parliament by the combination of classes, and by the force of opinion, exercised in constitutional operations; and that no means of a contrary character can be recommended or promoted through its organisation, while its present fundamental rules remain unaltered.
“X. That while we deem it right thus emphatically to disavow the principles propounded in the publications referred to in the resolutions, we at the same time equally distinctly repudiate all right to control the private opinions of any member of our body, provided they do not affect the legal or moral responsibility of the Irish Confederation.”
“That this Confederation does not feel called upon to promote either a condemnation or approval of any doctrines promulgated by any of its members, in letters, speeches, or otherwise; because the seventh fundamental rule of the Confederation expressly provides, ‘That inasmuch as the essential bond of union amongst us is the assertion of Ireland’s right to an independent legislature, no member of the Irish Confederation shall be bound to the adoption of any principle involved in any resolution, or promulgated by any speaker in the society, or any journal advocating its policy, to which he has not given his special consent, save only the foregoing fundamental principles of the society.'”
But nothing could be more remote from the fact than the assumption that those who supported the Rotunda resolutions were opposed to Mr. Mitchel in principle. If that ground were not expressly repudiated, Mr. Mitchel would have been sustained by a majority of two to one. Every speaker who exercised any influence on the meeting, took occasion emphatically to disclaim it. They did not deprecate the right or the duty of taking up arms against the English Government; but they said: While we approve of the end in view, we condemn the means, and precisely because we think them the most surely calculated of any that could be devised, to frustrate the object. This was the distinct ground, specifically, clearly and unmistakably stated, on which the amendment of Mr. Mitchel was opposed and it was the only ground on which it could be opposed; with sincerity or success. The use, therefore, which was made of the resolutions on Mr. Duffy’s trial was false and unsustainable in every point of view.
There is no disposition and no desire to quarrel with the line of defence adopted by Mr. Duffy. It is conceded freely that any defence which his counsel, some of the ablest and most honourable men at the bar in Ireland, or elsewhere recommended was justifiable. But coupling that part of the defence with the evidence given on the same trial, by pensioners and parasites of the British Government, and with the commentaries that afterwards appeared from the pens of some of Mr. Duffy’s friends, the whole was calculated to leave on the public mind an impression, not only utterly inconsistent with the truth, but pernicious and fatal in its influence on the future of the country, if indeed she is ever to have a future.
This impression inevitably would be that Mr. Duffy modelled and moulded the proceedings of the Confederation at his mere pleasure; that Mr. Duffy was not alone averse to revolution, but actually conservatively loyal; and that, in the spirit of that loyalty, he controlled the whole body, and kept an insensate “Jacquerie,” which existed within it, in check—that it was only when he was sent to prison this Jacquerie obtained the ascendant, and that Mr. Duffy was the victim of their intemperate folly. However agreeable all this may be to personal vanity, Mr. Duffy must feel compelled to reject it as audacious and unmeaning flattery. There is much more at stake than the estimate of private character—the highest interests of truth. They require that it should be made known and incontestably established that every word of the above—fact and inference—is unfounded. As to the statement that Mr. Duffy was made the victim of others’ intemperance, its converse could be much more easily sustained. But it satisfies every requirement of truth simply to state that, morally speaking, Mr. Duffy was equally responsible for the late outbreak, with those who perilled their lives and lost their liberty forever in the struggle.
The United Irishman started under auspices more flattering than ever cheered the birth of a similar enterprise. The man in Dublin, who did not read the first number, might indeed be pronounced a bigot or a fool. Every word struck with the force and terror of lightning. So great was the sale of the first number that the press was kept busy for three days and nights. When the second was announced, a guard of police was necessary to keep order and peace among the newsvendors around the office door. In every corner of the island the influence of the United Irishman was instant and simultaneous. The letters to the Ulster farmers caused a sensation as universal and profound as the letters to Lord Clarendon excited sentiments of wonder and alarm. Thomas Devin Reilly’s powers, too, never before tested in this range of literature, astonished even the warmest admirers of his genius. The journal at once attained a standard of eminence, political, literary and poetical, never accorded to a production of the kind, published in Ireland. For the days in which they were written, the songs and essays of Thomas Davis contained greater depth, and a holier purpose. They seemed to flow, too, from a diviner inspiration; were of a wider, calmer and more generous scope. But the times were different; and it was as if the spirit of fire, burning at the bases of man’s social hopes throughout Europe, breathed its prophetic glow on the heart of John Mitchel, conscious that he, of all men, in a prostrate land, could find it befitting utterance. It must not be omitted that the muse of “Mary,” of “Eva,” and of poor Clarence Mangan, considerably enhanced the high estimate of the United Irishman.
In the presence of such an oracle of defiance and vengeance, the Government for a while stood aghast. But the urgency of the times admitted of no temporising policy. Messrs. O’Brien, Meagher and Mitchel, were selected for prosecution; but the latter was honoured with a double suit—one for an article, and the other for a speech. The morning they were called upon to enter into security, all Dublin was startled as if by a spell. The streets were crowded by a dense and anxious mass of men. The police-office in a short time became inaccessible. Mr. O’Connell’s two sons, and the staff of the old Association, anticipated the crowd, and occupied the seats around the bench. When Mr. O’Brien was called on, the O’Connells offered to become his security. The fact was trumpeted by the journals, yet living on the garbage of Conciliation Hall. But the offer, if sincere, might then be productive of important consequences. It was not sincere; a fact sufficiently attested by the Messrs. O’Connell’s necessary consciousness that Mr. O’Brien would not come without his bail. In truth, it was known to all Dublin that he even found a difficulty in reconciling the conflicting claims of several gentlemen who aspired to that honour. So it was, too, with Mr. Meagher and Mr. Mitchel. All those gentlemen hurried to tender their services, as soon as they heard that bail would be required, the Messrs. O’Connell alone selecting the public court for the display of their magnanimity. It is needless to add that their courtesy was declined; and they must have left the police-office that day in the wake of the crowd, oppressed with the conviction that the confidence of the Irish people had passed for ever from their house.[one_half][/one_half] [one_half_last][/one_half_last]
This prosecution marked a new epoch in the Irish movement. It was determined at once to meet it boldly—to extenuate nothing, to retract nothing—to take advantage of no legal subterfuge; but dare the issue promptly, openly and fully. Mr. O’Brien at first refused to be defended by counsel. He was with great difficulty prevailed upon to change his determination; and, when it was known that he was willing to accept professional assistance, at least twenty of the ablest young men at the bar volunteered their services; and the traversers saw arrayed at their side an amount of professional ability and chivalry such as was never united on such an occasion. The most respectable solicitors in the profession, too, contended for the honour of being their recorded attorneys. The juries disagreed in both cases; and the charge against Mitchel lapsed into that more formidable prosecution which sealed his fate.
Mitchel’s arrest under the Treason Felony Act was not unexpected. But as soon as it was ascertained that he was lodged in Newgate, his fate engaged the entire care of his co-Confederates. The question at once arose whether, if a rescue were attempted, there were resources to ensure even a decent stand. It was ascertained that the supply of arms and ammunition was scanty and imperfect, and the supply of food still scantier. The people had been decimated by three years of famine: and no want could be more appalling than the want of food. On inquiry, it was found that there was not provision for three days in the capital, which depended on daily arrivals for its daily bread. Throughout the country, the supply was even more precarious. The Government had in their own hands the uncontrolled power of preventing the arrival of a single grain of corn; and, if so minded, could starve the island in a fortnight, supposing the people were even able to possess themselves of all the cattle in the country.
These were some of the considerations which influenced the decision of Mr. Mitchel’s comrades. Whether the opinion were or were not a correct one, they acted on the conviction that, under all circumstances, any attempt to rescue him would eventuate in a street row which would entail not only defeat but disgrace. If they could but persuade themselves that a blow might be struck, even though defeat and death followed, they most certainly would have attempted it. It was generally understood, on the day before the trial, that the idea of a rescue was abandoned; and the trial commenced amidst gloomy presentiments and blighted hopes. After hours of quibbling and legal fencing, a jury was selected, by the crown, to convict. From the moment they went through the blasphemous process of swearing to give a true verdict, John Mitchel’s fate was sealed.
The following account of the closing scene is not mine. Feeling inadequate to describe a scene of which even a distant recollection is exciting, I asked a friend who felt the deepest interest in the trial to describe it. With what he has written I entirely agree, save one sentence. He says that it was owing to the action of the council of the Confederation John Mitchel’s personal friends were allowed to be assaulted, with impunity, by the police. I do not think so. With respect to the decision of the council, I feel bound to assume my share of its responsibility, although I yielded to it with the utmost reluctance and regret:—
On the morning of Saturday, the 27th May, 1849, the court was crowded to a greater excess than usual, even in those days. About the empty dock were the personal friends of Mr. Mitchel, those who agreed with him, and those who did not. A little retired on either side sat John Martin, and John Kenyon—in front were William H. Mitchel, brother of the prisoner and his only relative in court, T. Devin Reilly, Thomas F. Meagher, John B. Dillon, Michael Doheny, Richard O’Gorman, Martin O’Flaherty (Mr. Mitchel’s attorney), Charles O’Hara and others whom we have forgotten.
A little in advance, on the left of the dock, were the stalls reserved during the sham trial for the counsel for the defence. As yet they were only occupied by the junior advocates, Sir Colman O’Loghlen and John O’Hagan. The benches at the right of the dock, and nearer to the bench, reserved for the Attorney-General and his retainers, were vacant. The Sheriff and his white stick occupied their box, and the galleries to the right and left were crowded with jurymen—those who “had done their business,” and those who were eager for employment to do more. The bench of the judges held two empty chairs. And police officers and other mercenaries, dotted thickly over the court, “concluded and set off the arrangements.”
An old man, low of stature, and stooped, passed through a side door, and walked slowly and decrepidly into the benches of the prisoner’s counsel. Whispers, and then applause from the galleries, were heard and passed by him unheeded. Quietly and unostentatiously he moved to his seat—the junior advocates, and all the Confederates in the body of the court, rising and bowing to him in silence. It was the solitary Republican of the United Irish day, Robert Holmes, coming to discharge his last duty to the great Republican of a younger century.
The applause of the galleries was hushed by the crier’s voice—”Silence! take off your hats”; and on the right stalked in the gaunt figure of James Henry Monahan. Triumph, animosity and fear marked his night-bird face. Even yet it was hoped the great opponent of his “government,” whom by rascality alone he could convict, would strike his colours, and sue for mercy. Even yet it was feared that a rescue would be attempted. How possible the former was, the reader may judge. The latter was rendered impossible by the council of the Confederation, and the few who cherished the design in the council’s despite, had attempted an emeute the night previous, and were beaten and placed hors de combat. As Monahan and his retainers entered, the red face of Lefroy oozed through the bench curtains, and followed by the pale Moore, “the court was seated.”
Ascending the steps to the front of the dock, and lifting, as he advanced, the glazed dark cap he wore during his imprisonment, as gracefully as if he entered a drawing-room, he took his stand in a firm but easy attitude. His appearance was equally removed from bravado and fear. His features, usually placid and pale, had a rigid clearness about them that day we can never forget. They seemed, from their transparency and firmness, like some wondrous imagination of the artist’s chisel, in which the marble, fancying itself human, had begun to breathe. The eye was calm and bright—the mouth, the feature round which danger loves to play, though easy, motionless, and with lips apart, had about it an air of immobility and quiet scorn, which was not the effect of muscular action, but of nature in repose. And in his whole appearance, features, attitude and look, there was a conscious pride and superiority over his opponents, which, though unpresuming and urbane, seemed to speak louder than words—”I am the victor here to-day.”
After some preliminary forms, Baron Lefroy commenced operations, by stating that he had called the case the first that morning, in order to give time for any application to be made in court by, or on behalf of, the prisoner of the crown.
“I have,” he answered, and after a momentary look at judges, jury-box and sheriff, he slowly continued: “I have to say that I have been tried by a packed jury—by the jury of a partisan sheriff—by a jury not empanelled, even according to the law of England, I have been found guilty by a packed jury obtained by a juggle—a jury not empanelled by a sheriff, but by a juggler.”
“That imputation,” interrupted Lefroy, “upon the conduct of the sheriff I must pronounce to be most unwarranted and unfounded.” And this discriminating judge continued to show that the imputation was so—concluding with the assertion that the sheriff “had done his duty in the case.” Then without pausing, he proceeded to the usual lecture, full of hypocritical cant with which British judges usually preface their awards, however infamous. He alluded to the personal condition of Mr. Mitchel, and expressed his regrets that a person of such merits should be in such circumstances, Then having dilated on the enormity of the offence, he assured Mr. Mitchel that he had been found guilty of many heinous charges against the Queen and the Imperial Crown, and among others, of felonious intending to levy war upon that gentlewoman, and that the evidence was furnished by the prisoner’s self. “How, therefore,” he continued, “you think yourself justified in calling it the verdict of a packed jury, and thus imputing perjury to twelve of your countrymen—deliberate and wilful perjury—”
Robert Holmes rose, during the judge’s speech, and said, “My lords, with the greatest respect, what I said was, that though he might be statutably guilty, he was not, in my opinion, morally guilty. I repeat that opinion now.”
Baron Lefroy would say no more on that point, only that the court could not acquiesce in a line of defence “which appeared to it very little short of, or amounting to, as objectionable matter as that for which the prisoner had been found guilty.
Loud applause followed. “Are there no policemen in court?” shouted Baron Lefroy. The High Sheriff “had given strict orders,” he said, “to have all removed who would interrupt.” “Make prisoners of them,” said the judge. “I wish you to understand,” he continued, still excited, and addressing Mr. Mitchel, who during these episodes, stood unmoved, “that we have with the utmost anxiety and with a view to come to a decision upon the measure of punishment which it would be our duty to impose, postponed the passing of sentence on you until this morning.” Then, having stated the various considerations which induced him to believe that the punishment should be lenient, and the equally various considerations which induced him to believe the contrary, Lefroy concluded as follows: “We had to consider all this—to look at the magnitude of the crime, and to look also at the consideration, that if this were not the first case brought under the Act, our duty might have obliged us to carry out the penalty it awards to the utmost extent; but, taking into consideration, that this is the first conviction under the Act—though the offence has been as clearly proved as any offence under the Act could be—the sentence of the court is, that you be transported beyond the seas for the term of fourteen years.”
The listeners to the hypocritical sentence which concluded Lefroy’s speech, heard the sentence with astonishment and indignation. Mr. Mitchel merely asked, apparently without any astonishment, if he might now address some remarks to the court. The leave asked was granted, and a silence still as death awaited the prisoner.
“The law,” he said, in his usual manly tone, and unexcited manner, “the law has now done its part, and the Queen of England, her crown and government in Ireland are now secure—’pursuant to Act of Parliament.’ I have done my part, also. Three months ago I promised Lord Clarendon and his government in this country, that I would provoke him into his ‘courts of justice,’ as places of this kind are called, and that I would force him publicly and notoriously to pack a jury against me to convict me, or else that I would walk out a free man from this dock to meet him in another field.
“My lord, I knew I was setting my life on that cast; but I warned him that, in either case, the victory would be with me; and the victory is with me. Neither the jury, nor the judges, nor any other man in this court, presumes to imagine that it is a criminal who stands in this dock.”
“I have kept my word. I have shown what the law is made of in Ireland. I have shown that her majesty’s government sustains itself in Ireland by packed juries, by partisan judges, by perjured sheriffs—”
Here he was interrupted by Lefroy, who said, “the court could not sit there to hear him arraign the jurors of the country, the sheriffs of the country, the administration of justice, the tenure by which the crown of England holds that country. The trial was over. Everything the prisoner had to say previous to the judgment, the court was ready to hear, and did hear. They could not suffer him (Mr. Mitchel) to stand at that bar to repeat, very nearly, a repetition of the offence for which he had been sentenced.”
“I have acted,” he then said, “I have acted all through this business, from the first, under a strong sense of duty. I do not regret anything I have done, and I believe that the course which I have opened is only commenced. The Roman,” he continued in one of those bursts of eloquence, with which he used to electrify men, stretching forth his clenched hand and arm, “the Roman who saw his hand burning to ashes before the tyrant, promised that three hundred should follow out his enterprise. Can I not promise for one, for two, for three, aye for hundreds?”
“Officer! officer! remove Mr. Mitchel,” was heard from Lefroy. A rush was made on the dock, and the foremost ranks sprung from the galleries, with out-stretched arms to vow with him too. The judges rushed in terror from the benches—the turnkeys seized the hero, and in a scene of wild confusion he half walked, and was half forced through the low, dark door-way in the rear, waving his hand in a quiet farewell. The bolts grated, the gate slammed, and he was seen no more.
They were seated, and seemed to be settling down to get through “business” as well as they could, when Mr. Holmes, whose defence of Mr. Mitchel had been so offensive to them, rose. “My lords,” he said, “I think I had a perfect right to use the language I did yesterday. I wish now to state that what I said yesterday as an advocate, I adopt to-day, as my own opinion. I here avow all I have said; and, perhaps, under this late Act of Parliament, her Majesty’s Attorney-General, if I have violated the law, may think it his duty to proceed against me in that way. But if I have violated the law in anything I said, I must, with great respect to the court, assert that I had a perfect right to state what I stated; and now I say in deliberation, that the sentiments I expressed with respect to England, and her treatment of this country, are my sentiments, and I here openly avow them. The Attorney-General is present—I retract nothing—these are my well-judged sentiments—these are my opinions, as to the relative position of England and Ireland, and if I have, as you seem to insinuate, violated the law by stating those opinions, I now deliberately do so again. Let her Majesty’s Attorney-General do his duty to his government, I have done mine to my country.”
Such was the conclusion of the trial of John Mitchel. The brother-in-law and friend of Robert Emmet, the republican of our fathers’ days, came to attest the justice of the republican of our own, and to vie with him in defying and scorning the infamous laws of England.
I feel tempted to add a word of a scene that intervened, in which I took a part. When the sheriff recovered his self-possession, he ordered several to be arrested; among others, Mr. Meagher. The officer who seized him acted rudely and violently, which led to further confusion, and the exchange of blows. At last Mr. Meagher and myself were secured and removed to prison. When order was restored, we were brought out before the court, and asked for an expression of regret. I answered, that having heard Mr. Mitchel express, in the dock, sentiments in which I entirely concurred, I took immediate occasion to mark my most distinct and emphatic approval. In doing this I had no intention of an affront to the court. But as to retract, or regret, no punishment in the power of that or any other court to inflict, would compel me to do either one or the other.
Mr. Meagher repeated the same thing. We were then reprimanded and sent back. Soon after we were recalled, and upon motion of Mr. Dillon and Sir Colman O’Loghlen, on behalf of Mr. Meagher, who stated that he would express his regret for the contempt of court, but nothing else, we were both released, although I persisted in refusing even to join in the expression of regret made for but not by Mr. Meagher.
Immediately after, the council of the Confederation was reduced to twenty-one; and everything wore a sterner aspect, as if, whether they willed it or no, an imperious obligation required fulfilment at their hands. The slight disunion, which the fate of John Mitchel created, between those who favoured and opposed his rescue, quickly disappeared, and both parties only emulated each other in the activity and earnestness of preparation. Among the agencies of progress, suggested by the crisis, were two new journals—the Felon, edited by John Martin and T.D. Reilly, assisted by Mr. Brenan, and theTribune, edited by Richard Dalton Williams and Kevin Izod O’Doherty, of which Mr. Savage and Dr. Antisell were joint proprietors, and to which they were joint contributors, with S.J. Meany and myself. The great object of the first was to follow in the footsteps of the United Irishman, and that of the latter was to urge the same principles upon a more republican basis. The Felon soon acquired additional interest from the daring principles and extraordinary ability of Mr. James F. Lalor, who had become a joint contributor with the recognised editors. Of the Tribune it would not become me to speak; perhaps no more is needed than that in the race to doom it was not outsped.
Mr. O’Doherty was the first placed on his trial. The jury was of the stamp usual in such cases in Ireland. But a point of great importance was raised by his counsel, as to the publisher’s intention to commit the felony, which they insisted should be proved, to bring his case within the provision of the Treason Felony Act. The court, composed of Chief Baron Pigot and Baron Pennefather, gave an opinion favourable to this construction, and the jury refused to convict, for which the Castle Organ did not hesitate to pronounce them perjurers. Every one supposed and rejoiced that Mr. O’Doherty had escaped; but the vengeance of the Attorney-General was far from satisfied, and he had ample satisfaction on a future day.
On the 16th of August, John Martin was placed at the bar, before the same judges. The instincts of the official, exasperated by defeat, exercised a keener vigilance in selecting a jury; and one was finally sworn that did not disappoint his sagacity. They found a verdict of guilty without hesitation; but recommended the prisoner to mercy, which in that case was a distinct contradiction of their oaths. The composition of the jury, and the character of the prosecution, will be best understood by a perusal of the subjoined speech. No higher proof could be given of his purity of purpose, elevation of sentiment, and goodness of heart. On the 19th of August he was called up to receive sentence He stood in the spot hallowed by the footprints of Robert Emmet and John Mitchel; nor was the heart he brought to the same sacrifice less worthy than theirs. Upon his benevolent countenance or stout heart, the appliances of terror around him had no effect. He stood unmoved and unawed, in the glorious consciousness that he had fulfilled his duty to his friend and to his country.
“MY LORDS: I have no imputation to cast upon the bench, neither have I anything of unfairness toward myself to charge the jury with. I think the judges desired to do their duty fairly, as upright judges and men, and that the twelve men who were put into the box, not to try, but to convict me, voted honestly according to their prejudices. I have no personal enmity against the sheriff, sub-sheriff, or any other gentleman connected with the arrangements of the jury panel, nor against the Attorney-General, or any other person engaged in the proceedings called my trial. But, my lords, I consider I have not yet been tried! There have been certain formalities carried on here for three days, but I have not been put upon my country, according to the constitution said to exist in Ireland!
“Twelve of my countrymen, ‘indifferently chosen,’ have not been put into the jury-box to try me, but twelve men, who, I believe, have been selected by the parties who represent the crown, for the purpose of convicting, and not of trying me.
“Every person knows that what I have stated is the fact; and I would represent to the judges, most respectfully, that they, as honourable judges, and as upright citizens, ought to see that the administration of justice in this country is above suspicion. I have nothing more to say with regard to the trial; but I would be thankful to the court for permission to say a few words after sentence is passed.”
“Then, my lords, permit me to say, that admitting the narrow and confined constitutional doctrines, which I have heard preached in this court, to be right, I am not guilty of the charge according to this Act! In the article of mine, on which the jury framed their verdict, which was written in prison, and published in the last number of my paper, what I desired to do was this, to advise and encourage my countrymen to keep their arms; because that is their inalienable right, which no Act of Parliament, no proclamation can take away from them. It is, I repeat, their inalienable right. I advised them to keep their arms; and further, I advised them to use their arms in their own defence against all assailants—even assailants that might come to attack them unconstitutionally and improperly, using the Queen’s name as their sanction.
“My object in all my proceeding has been simply to establish the independence of Ireland for the benefit of all the people of Ireland—noblemen, clergymen, judges, professional men—in fact, all Irishmen. I sought that object first, because I thought it was our right; because I thought, and think still, national independence was the right of the people of this country. And secondly, I admit, that being a man who loves retirement, I never would have engaged in politics did I not think it necessary to do all in my power to make an end of the horrible scenes the country presents—the pauperism, and starvation, and crime, and vice, and the hatred of all classes against each other. I thought there should be an end to that horrible system, which while it lasted, gave me no peace of mind, for I could not enjoy anything in my country, so long as I saw my countrymen forced to be vicious, forced to hate each other, and degraded to the level of paupers and brutes. This is the reason I engaged in politics.
“I acknowledge, as the Solicitor-General has said, that I was but a weak assailant of the English power. I am not a good writer, and I am no orator. I had only two weeks’ experience in conducting a newspaper until I was put into jail. But I am satisfied to direct the attention of my countrymen to everything I have ever written, and to rest my character on a fair examination of what I have put forward as my opinions. I shall say nothing in vindication of my motives but this, that every fair and honest man, no matter how prejudiced he may be, if he calmly considers what I have written and said, will be satisfied that my motives were pure and honourable. I have nothing more to say.”
The Chief Baron, in passing sentence, alluded to the jury’s “recommendation to mercy.”
Mr. Martin: “I cannot condescend to accept mercy where I believe I have been morally right. I want justice, not mercy.”
He was then sentenced to ten years’ transportation.
On two successive occasions, the jury empanelled by the Government, and carefully packed to serve their end, refused to convict Mr. O’Doherty. He was placed on his trial, a third time, on the 30th of October, prosecuted with the same enduring malignity, and a verdict of guilty, suspected to be the result of a fraud practised on the jury, was returned. Mr. Williams, who was joint proprietor of the Tribune, and jointly responsible, was acquitted after a protracted trial on the 3rd of November, the jury being of opinion that although the articles given in evidence were felonious, there was no proof to satisfy them that the proprietors, when publishing them, did so with a felonious intent. This distinction arose in consequence of the fair and candid construction of the Felony Act, given by Chief Baron Pigot and Baron Pennefather, on Mr. O’Doherty’s first trial, to the effect that the jury should be satisfied of the publisher’s felonious intent; a construction which the present judges ‘Crampton and Torrens’ would not dare to contradict.
Notwithstanding this, just as the words, “Not guilty,” were pronounced by the jury, in Mr. Williams’ case, despite the most flagrant and audacious bullying of the bench, Mr. O’Doherty was called up for judgment. Among all the martyr-band whom this year consigned to doom, not one behaved himself with truer or nobler heroism; not one, either, whose fate commands a deeper sympathy. Under thirty years of age, largely gifted, with most respectable connections, a high place in society, brilliant prospects, and so unostentatious in his enthusiasm that it was only then his country heard of his devotion, and learned his worth; there he stood with as lofty consciousness and as brave a heart as ever consecrated the scaffold or the battle-plain.
Judge Crampton pronounced the sentence. Nature has supplied his lordship with characteristics of countenance admirably befitting such a scene. Had he been only elevated to the kindred office of actual executioner, he would have been spared the expense of a mask; for without it, no one could look into his eyes. Of course, he was teeming with compassion and regret, which jointly resulted in a sentence of transportation for TEN YEARS. Mr. O’Doherty, who stood unmoved, after a few preliminary observations in reference to the unfairness of his trial, spoke as follows:—
“I would feel much obliged if your lordship would permit me to mention a few more words with reference to my motives throughout this affair. I had but one object and purpose in view. I did feel deeply for the sufferings and privations endured by my fellow-countrymen. I did wish, by all means, consistent with a manly and honourable resistance, to assist in putting an end to that suffering. It is very true, and I will confess it, that I desired an open resistance of the people to that government, which, in my judgment, entailed these sufferings upon them. I have used the words open and honourable resistance in order that I might refer to one of the articles brought in evidence against me, in which the writer suggests such things as flinging burning hoops on the soldiery. My lords, these are no sentiments of mine. I did not write that article. I did not see it or know of it until I read it when published in the paper. But I did not bring the writer of it here on the table. Why? I knew that if I were to do so, it would be only handing him over at the court-house doors to what one of the witnesses has very properly called the fangs of the Attorney-General. With respect to myself I have no fears. I trust I will be enabled to bear my sentence with all the forbearance due to what I believe to be the opinion of twelve conscientious enemies to me, and I will bear with due patience the wrath of the Government whose mouthpiece they were; but I will never cease to deplore the destiny that gave me birth in this unhappy country, and compelled me, as an Irishman, to receive at your hands a felon’s doom for discharging what I conceived, and what I still conceive, to be my duty.”
It is here needful to refer to myself, a topic always disagreeable to others, but painfully so on this occasion to me. The proposal to form a league with the remaining members of the Association originated with certain gentlemen, among whom the Rev. Mr. Miley held a prominent place, who personally waited on Mr. O’Brien to testify their abhorrence of the outrages offered to him in Limerick. Some very questionable politicians, who watched with the eye of traffic the current of public opinion, and sought to make the same profit of the reflux they had formerly made of its unimpeded tide, attended on those occasions. Others, of purer motives, and loftier patriotism, joined in these interviews, and contrived to have them repeated. Among these were the poet, Samuel Ferguson, and Richard Ireland, two recent and brilliant converts to the cause of nationality. There were others, whom I need not name, of equally unquestionable purity. But for several weeks, while these interviews were held, there was no exact delegation from either the Confederation or Association. I am not, indeed, aware whether any such delegation was ever formally given or assumed. However, negotiations proceeded, and though they were never brought to a satisfactory adjustment, the dissolution of the Confederation was formally proposed and adopted. On that day the greatest hope of Ireland perished.
The generosity of the suicide on the part of the Confederation was met by a new chicane. Though every member, whose character and talents could for a moment redeem the deformity, dulness and decrepitude of the Repeal Association, had passed from its ranks and enrolled themselves in the new League, it resolved to struggle on, acting as a check and a stain by its anility and crookedness, on the rising hopes of the country. During the discussions that led to the formation of the league, it was emphatically announced by certain members of the Confederation that on no ground and for no purpose would they abjure one principle they ever announced. Above all, they avowed their purpose to urge on the country the duty of armed resistance whenever its success appeared probable. The Government heard of these avowals, and the time spent in captious discussions about moral nonentities and legal quibbles, when the stake was a nation’s death or life, was diligently employed by the Government in accumulating means of defence.
The motives of the principal promoters of the league are by no means questioned here. On the contrary, it is freely admitted their convictions were as sincere as they were fatal. The due appreciation of that movement requires that a few leading facts and inferences upon which it was based should be calmly considered. The first and most important is the great change which had taken place in the feelings of the country. The vast majority of the thinking population were ranged at the side of the Confederation. So, too, was that of the people of the rural districts. The intellectual leaders of the great Protestant party had actually identified themselves with it, and a reconciliation with the entire body of the Orangemen had been nearly effected. Most of the men whose integrity and ability had preserved the lingering existence of the Association, openly avowed their approval of its principles, and such of them whose hearts were not mere empty sounds, would join its members at a crisis.
Thus stood the facts. The considerations in favour of the junction were these: Certain men of influence, who, contrary to their own convictions, adhered to the Association, in the commencement through fear, and still adhered to it through an unintelligible hankering after consistency, pressed for an opportunity where they might abandon their former associates without the appearance of abandoning their old principles. There were others who followed a middle course, and were always with the greater crowd and the more intense enthusiasm, who demanded the same means of escape.
There was a consideration of some weight which no doubt influenced the decision of the Confederates. It was this: the Roman Catholic clergymen had given unmitigated opposition to the Confederation. Their hostility had been the most formidable obstacle in its way; and it was assumed that the presence of some leading churchmen among the Confederates, would remove the distrust which the former opposition of the priesthood had mainly tended to create.
These were the chief considerations at the affirmative side. On a less pressing occasion, and at a former period, they might have been forcible, nay, even conclusive. But the issue had been then narrowed to one of actual force. John Mitchel was transported, and the most trusted of his comrades had pledged their lives to redeem their brother felon at any cost. Every consideration connected with the question should be examined and determined on in reference to that position and that pledge. Tested by them, the first above presented would thus resolve itself: either these men whose characteristic had been indecision, were sincere in seeking for an opportunity to redeem their patriotism by their blood, or they were not. If they were, they would never be restrained by the miserable fear of being charged with inconsistency. If they were not, the cause would be cursed by their adhesion. The same argument would apply to the priesthood with still more imperious force; such of them as were actually sincere would be found at their post at the hour of trial, in obedience to no form, but influenced by their own conscientiousness. Such of them as were insincere would be true to no obligation imposed by conventionality. Untrue to their convictions, they could not be faithful to their words. And finally—an argument which appears unanswerable and insuperable—Mr. John O’Connell and his immediate followers had so solemnly abjured, denounced and cursed the principles of the great majority with whom they were asked to league, that they could not comply without such a debasement of character as to compel the scorn of all men, not only to themselves, but all those with whom they were united. It could not fail to strike any ordinary observer that materials so incongruous and repulsive were incapable of cohesion; and the consequence must be the distrust of the more ardent of their followers at both sides.
These were my opinions. I pressed them at the time as strongly as I could, and perhaps more urgently than I ought. But I was absent from Dublin, and my remonstrances were vain. I would have retired in despair had I not been too deeply engaged. The Rev. John Kenyon did actually retire, influenced by the same motives which I refused to yield to, solely because retirement would brand me with an imputation of cowardice, which no explanation could ever efface. I refused all connection with the League, but continued to act in concert with my confederates, in establishing clubs and training the manhood of the country for the stern trial before it. My position rendered bold, undisguised and explicit language indispensable. This led to prosecution and arrest. The charge was supposed to be high treason and Mr. Richard O’Gorman wrote to me to inquire what I wished to have done in my behalf. My answer was a distinct refusal to accept any aid from a body whose constitution I could not approve. This circumstance is mentioned, not because it deserves distinct attention, or even a place in this narrative, but to prove that my objections to the dissolution of the Confederation, and my feeling that it was a fatal step, are not of recent growth, or founded on ex-post facto opinions. I feel bound to add, however, that I stood alone, or almost alone, as far as I have been able to hear. I dismiss the subject now, anxious to claim no praise, and ready to submit to the blame that may attach to my course, such as it was. I am only desirous, that in whatever memory of me my country may preserve, the truth alone should determine the public estimation of my conduct and character.
The League met, resolutions were adopted, and speeches made that meant nothing. New men came together, looked each other in the face, and turned away as if at the heart of each there was something with which he could not trust the other. There was a short, feeble and false flourish, and no more. Those who augured so sanguinely for its action and effect were disappointed. But they shamed openly to relinquish a project for sake of which they had made such sacrifices. By degrees, however, they sought to rekindle the embers of that fire which with thoughtless hand they aided to extinguish. The Government availing themselves of the inactivity that prevailed, and acting on the information they received, resolved to strike a second blow. Charles Duffy was arrested for an article which the Castle Organ branded as shrinking and cowardly, and which evidently lacked the burning spirit of the time. Immediately the clubs, which continued a precarious and unintelligible existence, came together and elected a directory of five from among their own members. This directory consisted of Messrs. Dillon, Meagher, O’Gorman, Reilly, and M’Gee. What their exact duty was does not sufficiently appear. But I believe the fact to be that they never took counsel together.
Mr. Meagher and Mr. O’Gorman left town immediately. About that time I was actively engaged in Tipperary. On the same day and hour Mr. Meagher was arrested in Waterford and I in Cashel. An attempt was made to rescue both of us, and by us both the effort was checked. I knew nothing of what had occurred. I had been acting since the formation of the League on my own judgment and responsibility. Independent of the fact that the harvest was yet remote, and that we were tacitly pledged to await its coming, my experience for the previous month satisfied me that the people were far from being prepared; and I could not allow any personal considerations to influence the country at such a crisis. Mr. Meagher was governed by similar motives. It might have been better had we acted otherwise, but with our then convictions, the least risk on our own account would have been selfish and criminal; and rather than be guilty of it we yielded to our fate. At the time each of us thought the charge against him was at least felony. It turned out otherwise, and though the magistrates who arrested and committed us refused to entertain the question whether or not the offence was bailable, and though we were both paraded through the country under an escort of several hundred men, the Government directed we should be admitted to bail. Mr. Meagher proceeded from Dublin to Limerick, where the indictment against him was found; and on the same day I was liberated from Nenagh Jail. Previous to my arrest, I had arranged to hold a meeting on the summit of Slievenamon mountain. It was fixed for the day after that on which I was liberated at Nenagh, which is at least fifty miles from the place of meeting. I was not liberated until late in the evening; but I resolved to be present at the meeting, and immediately proceeded on my journey. I travelled all night, partly on horseback and partly on foot, arriving at Cashel early in the morning. I there learned that Mr. Meagher and some friends of his from Limerick had also arrived with the same object as myself. We rode together to the mountain, followed by several thousands, a distance of twenty miles. Fifty thousand men at least clambered that steep mountain side, under a scorching July sun. Four times as many would have been there to meet us, but it had been widely rumoured none of us would be there; and in fact most of those who came believed we were both in our prison-cells. Besides this, efforts were made by men high in the confidence of the leaders and the country to prevent the meeting altogether. To fix their motives was difficult, but it would be hazardous to attribute to them any but the best. Facts have since proved, however, that their patriotism had even then begun to halt. The Rev. Mr. Byrne, of whom much shall be said, hereafter, was foremost in this endeavour, and actually dissuaded the people of Waterford, Carrick and Wexford from proceeding to the mountain. These people all remained in Carrick, and Mr. Meagher was informed that they were in a state of extreme excitement. This intelligence determined him to leave the mountain suddenly and proceed to meet his fellow-townsmen. Had all these been allowed to attend the meeting, our resolution might have been very different from what it was. But we were, in fact, disappointed and chagrined. The mountain-top had been selected for many reasons. Principal among them were these: Public meetings in Ireland had actually become a farce. We determined to hold one from which all senseless and idle brawlers would be excluded. The difficulty of ascending the hill would, we thought, sufficiently test the courage and sincerity of our followers. Secondly, we wished for a spot not accessible to her majesty’s troops, so as to avoid a chance of a collision. Thirdly, we thought it would be a precaution against detectives; and finally, it was possible we might determine on some bolder step when we saw our strength. The excitement in Carrick had nearly become uncontrollable, when Mr. Meagher arrived there, and it was deemed advisable to lead the people out of the town. The distance to Waterford is twelve Irish miles, over the entire of which the procession stretched; and so dense was the crowd that Mr. Meagher did not arrive in Waterford sooner than three o’clock, next morning. It may well be supposed that such a scene of excitement, heat and tumult, afforded but little opportunity for deliberation. I was able to speak with my friend only in brief snatches; and I did not afterward see him until it was too late to take counsel for the future.
The meeting on that day, the evening scene at Carrick, and the arrival in Waterford, were relied on by the English minister, as a perfect justification for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. Others and more powerful ones influenced the Cabinet; and foremost among these was the great meeting at New York, which too clearly evidenced the purpose of America, should the struggle proceed. I had no communication, directly or indirectly, with any of my comrades after that day, save one letter from Mr. O’Brien. This letter had reference solely to my approaching trial, which he signified his wish to be present at. To this letter I replied, informing him that it had been intimated to me that a number of men would assemble, armed, near Nenagh, during the trial; and I besought him to be there for the purpose of preventing an outbreak, which I regarded as disastrous, unprepared as the people then were. Neither the trial nor the meeting took place, and other events shaped our destiny. A few days after the Slievenamon meeting, it was intimated to me that I was to be arrested on a second charge, the exact nature of which was not stated. I could not doubt the accuracy of my information, and being fully determined to preserve my liberty for the coming struggle, which under any circumstances could not be long delayed, I left home on the 22nd day of July, and proceeded through the country to the foot of Slievenamon. Here I took up my quarters at a farmer’s house, where I remained two days and nights, in total ignorance of the circumstances then rapidly hurrying the crisis wherein our fondly cherished hopes were blasted.
 From the position in which Mr. Carleton is now placed, it may be necessary to say that I do not allude to him.
 Since the above was written, I have heard it said that a report, current about the time of Mr. O’Brien’s conviction, had been recently received here. The report was, that I promised Mr. O’Brien to have 50,000 men to meet him; which was his principal inducement to act as he did; and that I not only had not one man, but was myself absent when he came. The absurdity of the rumour was sufficiently proved by the fact that Mr. O’Brien did not come to me, or my part of the country, in the first instance. The real truth is that I never directly or indirectly, by word or letter, counselled the outbreak. Nay, more: I was as ignorant of Mr. O’Brien’s purpose as the President of these States. At the time of Mr. Mitchel’s trial, I believe I expressed a very strong opinion in favour of rescuing him; and that opinion was grounded on the belief that the whole people would rise up en masse, and in one wild burst of vengeance, sweep their oppressors from the land. But neither then nor afterwards, did Mr. O’Brien give me the least reason to believe that he was prepared to resist the government in arms, save as far as he concurred in acts which had a tendency to that end.
When first the report above referred to was circulated, I wrote the strongest contradiction of it, and Mr. Meagher, with Mr. O’Brien’s sanction, addressed the following note to the editor of the Tipperary Vindicator. I am sorry it should be in any way necessary to produce it here; but as this is the last time I shall ever refer to this subject, I thought it best to add this testimony to my own.
“MR. MEAGHER fully authorises his friend, Mr. Lenihan, to state that the exculpation which appeared in a recent number of his paper, from Mr. Doheny, is the perfect truth.
“Mr. Meagher is most anxious to have this stated, for he has felt for a long time deeply pained at many of the false reports that have appeared against his friend—his dear and trusted friend, Michael Doheny.
“One of the most grievous of these reports has been that very false one, charging Mr. Doheny with having invited Mr. Smith O’Brien to the county Tipperary. Nothing could have been more false than this.
“Mr. Doheny, so far from inviting Mr. O’Brien to Tipperary, did not, in fact, know of his being in the county at all, until Mr. Meagher told him, and that was on Tuesday, July 25th.
(Signed) “THOMAS FRANCIS MEAGHER.
“Written a few hours after the passing of the sentence of death.
“October 23, 1848.”