End of the Rebellion of 1798

A. M. Sullivan
c. 1900
CHAPTER LXXX. (continued)

The insurrection of '98 was the first rebellion on the part of the Irish people for hundreds of years. The revolt of the Puritan colonists in 1641, and that of their descendants, the Protestant rebels of 1690, were not Irish movements in any sense of the phrase. It was only after 1605 that the English government could, by any code of moral obligations whatever, be held entitled to the obedience of the Irish people, whose struggles previous to that date were lawful efforts in defense of their native and legitimate rulers against the English invaders. And never, subsequently to 1605, up to the period at which we have now arrived—1798—did the Irish people revolt or rebel against the new sovereignty. On the contrary, in 1641, they fought for the king, and lost heavily by their loyalty. In 1690 once more they fought for the king, and again they paid a terrible penalty for their fidelity to the sovereign. In plain truth, the Irish are, of all people, the most disposed to respect constituted authority where it is entitled to respect, and the most ready to repay even the shortest measure of justice on the part of the sovereign by generous, faithful, enduring, and self-sacrificing loyalty. They are a law-abiding people—or rather a justice-loving people; for their contempt for law becomes extreme when it is made the antithesis of justice. Nothing but terrible provocation could have driven such a people into rebellion.

Rebellion against just and lawful government is a great crime. Rebellion against constituted government of any character is a terrible responsibility. There are circumstances under which resistance is a duty, and where, it may be said, the crime would be rather in slavish or cowardly acquiescence; but awful is the accountability of him who undertakes to judge that the measure of justification is full, that the moral duty of resistance is established by the circumstances, and that not merely in figure of speech, but in solemn reality, no other resort remains.

But, however all this may be, the public code of which it is a part rightly recognizes a great distinction in favor of a people who are driven into the field to defend their homes and altars against brutal military violence. Such were the heroic men of Wexford; and of the United Irishmen it is to be remembered that if they pursued an object unquestionably good and virtuous itself, outside, not within, the constitution, it was not by their own choice. They were no apostles of anarchy, no lovers of revolution, no "rebels for a theory." They were not men who decried or opposed the more peaceful action of moral force agencies. They would have preferred them, had a choice fairly been left them. There was undoubtedly a French Jacobinical spirit tingeing the views of many of the Dublin and Ulster leaders toward the close, but under all the circumstances this was inevitable. With scarcely an exception, they were men of exemplary moral characters, high social position, of unsullied integrity, of brilliant intellect, of pure and lofty patriotism. They were men who honestly desired and endeavored, while it was permitted to them so to do, by lawful and constitutional means, to save and serve their country, but who, by an infamous conspiracy of the government, were deliberately forced upon resistance as a patriot's duty, and who at the last sealed with their blood their devotion to Ireland.

"More than twenty years have passed away," says Lord Holland; "many of my political opinions are softened, my predilections for some men weakened, my prejudices against others removed; but my approbation of Lord Edward Fitzgerald's actions remains unaltered and unshaken. His country was bleeding under one of the hardest tyrannies that our times have witnessed. He who thinks that a man can be even excused in such circumstances by any other consideration than that of despair from opposing by force a pretended government, seems to me to sanction a principle which would insure impunity to the greatest of all human delinquents, or at least to those who produce the greatest misery among mankind."[2]


[2] Lord Holland, "Memoirs of the Whig Party."