Parnellism and Crime and the Home Rule Bill

A. M. Sullivan
c. 1900


IRELAND'S arch enemy, the London Times, did not miss the opportunity offered by the Phoenix Park tragedy to unmask its batteries of slander against its victim, and singled out the great national leader for special attack in a series of articles entitled "Parnellism and Crime," the purport of which was to show conclusively that Mr. Parnell, Michael Davitt, and all the prominent Nationalists were secretly in league with the "Invincibles," the "Moonlighters," and all the malcontents and miscreants of the period. Not only in league with the latter, but had instigated and abetted their evil deeds, especially the Phoenix Park murders. That money had been advanced from the Land League fund to James Carey, of the "Invincibles," and others, to forward their nefarious designs, was also averred. No qualifying doubts or hesitancy characterized the language in which these serious charges against Parnell and his colleagues were set down; but, on the contrary, a solemn, portentous tone pervaded the writer's startling avowal. The underlying motive—to ruin the reputation of the Irish leaders, especially in the eyes of the English electors—was veiled under a well-assumed sincerity and pretended sense of duty, impelling the writer to forewarn the public what manner of men these Nationalists were. To those acquainted with Mr. Parnell's character and methods, those who had watched his public career from his first entry into the arena of politics, and noted the constitutional methods he had invariably pursued, these disclosures were simply incredible. Yet the persistency with which the charges were reiterated was well calculated to raise up doubt and apprehension in most men's minds. For three months or more these libels were on the intellectual bill of fare furnished forth daily to John Bull. But the end was not yet. "While the Coercion Bill was under debate (Balfour's first-born, stamped indelibly with original sin) the "Thunderer" fulminated a new kind of projectile, calculated to carry conviction to doubting minds and create consternation in the Parnellite constituencies—a forged letter authenticated with Parnell's own signature, and then another, and several others in succession. It will not be out of place to insert here a few of these interesting epistles.

"May 15, 1882.
"Dear Sir: I am not surprised at your friend's anger, but he and you should know that to denounce the murders was the only course open to us. To do that promptly was plainly our best policy. But you can tell him and all others concerned that though I regret the accident of Lord F. Cavendish's death, I cannot refuse to admit that Burke got no more than his deserts. You are at liberty to show him this and others whom you can trust also, but let not my address be known. He can write to House of Commons.
"Yours very truly,
"Chas. S. Parnell."

Another letter was as follows:

"January 9, 1882.
"Dear E.: What are these fellows waiting for? This inaction is inexcusable; our best men are in prison and nothing is being done. Let there be an end of this hesitancy. Prompt action is called for. You undertook to make it hot for old Forster, etc. Let us have some evidence of your power to do so. My health is good, thanks.
"Yours very truly,
"Chas. S. Parnell."

The following letter purporting to be written by Patrick Egan, treasurer of the Land League, also appeared:

"I have by this post sent M. £200. He will give you what you want. "When will you undertake to get to work and give us value for our money?
"Faithfully yours,
"Patrick Egan.
"James Carey, Esq."

Subsequent disclosures proved conclusively that the Government was behind the Times in the conspiracy to ruin Mr. Parnell; and the Tory leader of the House of Commons, W. H. Smith, was noticeably active in circulating these libels, which were published in pamphlet form and for sale at all his railroad book-stalls. Mr. Parnell was urged to take action against the Times, and clear himself of the odium heaped on his name; but he hesitated for long, and not without good and sufficient reasons. At length, however, he demanded that the charges be tested before a tribunal composed of members of the House. Mr. Smith answered that the Government would consent to have a criminal prosecution entered against the Times, and that the attorney-general be instructed to act as counsel for the prosecution. The duplicity shown in this evasive answer, the mockery of making a show of fighting Parnell's battle while they were playing into the hands of the Times, could not fail of being detected even by men less wary than the Nationalist members. The offer was declined, and the Times immediately renewed the charges in more aggravated terms, and challenged Mr. Parnell to go before a London jury; but the wise leader hesitated to take what under ordinary circumstances would have been the proper course. The cockney juryman is not remarkable for capacity of intellect, and could hardly be expected to form a just estimate of an Irish political organization, or determine whether its leaders led, as was charged, double lives in a political sense, pursuing their objects by open and constitutional methods in daytime, but under cover of darkness sending out murderous emissaries armed with knives and six-shooters.

A London jury would, in all probability, be swayed by their prejudices, as in the case of O'Donnell, who was hurried to his doom even though a grave doubt existed that the charge of murder could be sustained, his plea being that Carey was the aggressor, and that he (O'Donnell) had fired on the informer in self-defence. An unlooked-for incident or precedent occurred at this juncture which precipitated the famous Times prosecution case. Frank Hugh O'Donnell, a writer on the Morning Post, considering that he also had been libelled, began suit against the Times. In this action the plaintiff was not successful, but the case directed renewed attention to the forged letters, and further pressure being brought to bear on the Government, a royal commission, presided over by three judges, was appointed to hear what proved to be perhaps the most remarkable libel suit of this century Sir Charles Russell's speech for the plaintiff—a masterly effort which took several days in delivery—was in reality a historical review of the causes proximate or remote of crime in Ireland, and was in itself not only an indictment of the Times, but also of the Government back of it.

One extract from this remarkable address will reveal piecemeal one phase of Ireland's wrongs. Quoting Lord Dufferin (late Governor-General of Canada) in his work, "Irish Emigration and the Tenure of Land in Ireland," Sir Charles read this remarkable passage to the court: "From Queen Elizabeth's reign until within a few years all the known and authorized commercial confraternities of Great Britain never for a moment relaxed their relentless grasp on the trades of Ireland. One by one each of our nascent industries was either strangled in its birth or handed over gagged and bound to the jealous custody of the rival interest in England, until at last every fountain of wealth was hermetically sealed, and even the traditions of commercial enterprise have perished through desuetude." Another passage apropos of the Land question was as follows: "The owners of England's pastures opened the campaign. As early as the commencement of the 16th century the beeves of Roscommon, Tipperary and Queen's County undersold the produce of the English grass counties in their own market.

By an Act of the 20th of Elizabeth, Irish cattle were declared a "nuisance" and their importation was prohibited. Forbidden to send our beasts alive across the Channel, we killed them at home and began to supply the sister country with cured provisions. A second act of Parliament imposed prohibitory duties on salted meats. The hides of the animals still remained, but the same influence soon put a stop to the importation of leather. Our cattle trade abolished, we tried sheep farming. The sheep breeders of England immediately took alarm, and Irish wool was declared contraband by a parliament of Charles II. Headed in this direction we tried to work up the raw material at home, but this created the greatest outcry of all. Every maker of fustian, flannel and broadcloth in the country rose up in arms, and by an Act of William III. the woollen trade of Ireland was extinguished, and twenty thousand manufacturers left the island. The easiness of the Irish labor market and the cheapness of provisions still giving us an advantage, even though we had to import our materials, we next made a dash at the silk business; but the silk manufacturer proved as pitiless as the wool staplers.

The cotton manufacturer, the sugar refiner, the soap and candle maker, and any other trade or interest that thought it worth while to petition was received by Parliament with the same partial cordiality, until the most searching scrutiny failed to detect a single vent through which it was possible for the hated industry of Ireland to respire. But, although excluded from the markets of Britain, a hundred harbors gave her access to the universal sea. Alas! a rival commerce on her own element was still less welcome to England, and as early as the reign of Charles II., the Levant, the ports of Europe, and the oceans beyond the Cape were forbidden to the flag of Ireland. The colonial trade alone was in any manner open—if that could be called an open which for a long time precluded all exports whatever, and excluded from direct importation to Ireland such important articles as sugar, cotton, and tobacco. What has been the consequence of such a system pursued with relentless pertinacity for two hundred and fifty years? This: that, debarred from every other trade and industry, the entire nation flung itself back upon the land with as fatal an impulse as when a river whose current is suddenly impeded rolls back and drowns the valley it once fertilized."

In the unraveling of the case was disclosed a vile conspiracy having for its principal agent a man named Houston, the Secretary of the Loyal and Patriotic. Union (a landlord brotherhood), and Richard Pigott, at one time owner of a well-known Dublin paper, The Irishman. Pigott's baseness was of earlier date. He had offered his wares—forged letters and information relating to the Nationalists—to the late Chief-Secretary Forster—"Buckshot" Forster as he is best known. Forster declined to purchase the letters, though he helped out Pigott with loans of money until the latter became too importunate in his demands. The end of this remarkable case—the confession of Richard Pigott to Mr. Labouchere in presence of George Augustus Sala that all the libelous letters published in the Times were forged by his own hand—was followed by the wretched man's flight and suicide at a hotel in Madrid. This unlooked-for denouement was a signal triumph for Mr. Parnell and his colleagues, and the scene in the House of Commons on March 1st when Mr. Parnell rose to speak was altogether unprecedented. Every Liberal—Gladstone, Morley, Harcourt, included—arose and cheered him wildly for several minutes.

On June 8th, 1885, an amendment to the second reading of Mr. Gladstone's Budget, proposed by Sir Michael Hicks Beach, led to a division that unseated the ministry, and the chief factor in its downfall was the Irish vote, which then numbered only thirty-nine, and was thrown into the opposition scale. The exultation of the party over the downfall of "Buckshot" Forster and his tyrannical regime was well merited, and Mr. Parnell was heard to remark: "A united Irish party can hold in its hand the destinies of England's governments." A bill enlarging the franchise in Ireland so as to equalize it with the franchise in England and Scotland had been passed while the Gladstone Ministry was in power. In the general election that ensued the effect was seen in an overwhelming majority for the Parnellites. Mr. Gladstone was again returned to power under a pledge to bring in a Home Rule bill. Several members of his cabinet were opposed to the measure and resigned—the Marquis of Hartington, Sir George Trevelyan, and Joseph Chambers.

Notwithstanding this desertion by his lieutenants, Mr. Gladstone redeemed his promise on April 8, 1886, by introducing his Home Rule bill in a speech which by many is ranked as the masterpiece of all his orations. The main features of the bill may be summed up briefly as follows. It provides for the constitution of an Irish Parliament sitting in Dublin with the queen at its head. The Parliament, which is to be quinquennial, is to consist of three hundred and nine members divided into two "orders;" one hundred and three members in the first and two hundred and six, in the second order. The first order to consist of the twenty-eight Irish representative peers and its remaining members to be elective. At the end of thirty years the rights of peerage members will lapse and the whole of the first order will be elective. The elective members will sit for ten years and will be elected by constituencies subsequently to be formed. The elective member must possess a property qualification or income of two hundred pounds a year. The franchise is restricted: the elector having to possess or occupy land of the annual value of twenty-five pounds.

The second "order" is to be elected on the existing franchise—the representation of each constituency being doubled. For the first Parliament the Irish members now sitting in the House of Commons will constitute one-half the members of the second order. The lord lieutenant has power given him to arrange for the procedure at the first sitting, the election of Speaker and other details. If a bill is lost by the disagreement of the two orders voting separately, the matter in dispute shall be considered as vetoed, or lost, for three years. After that time, if the question shall be again raised, it shall be submitted to the legislative body as a whole, both shall vote together and the majority decide. The responsible executive will be constituted the same as in England. The leader of the majority will be called upon by the lord lieutenant to form a government responsible to the Irish Parliament. The queen retains the right—to be exercised through the lord lieutenant—of giving or withholding her assent to bills and can dissolve or summon Parliament when she pleases.

All constitutional questions that may arise as to whether the Irish Parliament has exceeded its powers will be decided by the judicial committee of the privy council. The prerogatives of the crown are untouched. Imperial questions—the making of peace or war, all foreign relations, questions of international law or treaties, matters relating to naturalization, to trade, navigation and quarantine; coinage, weights and measures; copyrights and patents; all these and others to be controlled by the Imperial Parliament. For a time, the customs and excise duties are to be levied by officers appointed, as now, by the British treasury. All other taxes will be imposed and collected under the authority of the Irish Parliament. We have given merely a few leading features of the bill which on all hands was admitted to be very defective—in fact, a lame and halting measure and regarded by Mr. Parnell as by no means a final settlement of the Irish question; but rather as a first instalment of justice, he and his followers supported it. The bill was defeated, however by a majority of thirty on June 7th, and then came another general election.