North & South Unite?
At the beginning of 1850 Lucas at length transferred the ‘Tablet’ to Dublin. At that time the local Tenant Societies, founded by the Callan curates, were spreading over Munster, and a Tenant Protection Society had existed for four years in the North under the auspices of Sharman Crawford, with my old friend Dr. M’Knight for secretary. A Land Bill had been recently proposed by the Whig Government menacing the existence of Ulster tenant-right, which created exasperation throughout the province, and indeed throughout the island. Here was a grievance common to North and South, but North and South had not acted together on any question for more than half a century, and the union of Catholic priests and Presbyterian ministers seemed the most hopeless of improbabilities.
In this crisis I came to an understanding with Lucas to summon if possible a National Conference. on the Land Question which would bring together all the discontented parties. It was now that my intimacy with Dr. M’Knight in Belfast came into play. I invited him frankly to join the movement, and to get the principal men in his society to act with him. On his return from London, on a bootless deputation to the Government, he became my guest for a time. We had anxious consultations, and came to an understanding which produced memorable results. He signed the requisition for the proposed conference, and promised to bring to it a solid body of the Presbyterian clergy.
When their attendance was announced in the newspapers the promise was smiled at by experienced politicians. But when the conference projected for June had to be postponed until August, to enable Presbyterian ministers otherwise engaged with the General Assembly of their Church to be present, a livelier interest began to prevail.
This interval was not wasted. The men who projected the conference employed it in preparing the necessary agenda, and the Press was busy debating the principles on which the Land Question ought to be settled, and the method by which these principles could best be established. Plans and projects were nearly as plentiful as in Paris between the summons and the assembly of the Tiers Etat in ’89, I took occasion to specify the policy of the Nation in the premisses, all the more because the claim of the tenants for complete justice had been first formulated by the Nation eight years earlier. There ought to be a plan, I contended, so just and adequate that it could be accepted by North and South, and might become the Tenants’ Charter. It must provide, once for all, perpetuity of tenure.
“Over three-fourths of Europe (I said) the tenant is as immovable as the landlord, where landlords are not altogether unknown. From the British Channel to the Sea of Azof the tiller of the soil sits firm. Even under the British flag in Guernsey and the Channel Islands no one can divorce him from the land. This fixed tenure turned the rocks of Switzerland and the harsh sands of Belgium into cornfields. It would turn the spectral graveyard of Skibbereen into the cheerful and prosperous home of men. It is the custom of the civilised world on both sides of the equator. Here, then, the Irish tenant is entitled to take his stand.”
The second essential point in a tenants’ charter was a just rent. To fix a just rent it was necessary that the land should be valued; The proposal had been scoffed at as something new and monstrous, but this was a mistake; it was neither new nor monstrous.
“Every estate, and every farm upon it, is valued by order of the proprietor to ascertain the rent it can pay. The demand of the tenant is only that this process shall be fairly performed; that such valuation, instead of being private or partial, shall be an official one, made upon established priniciples and by competent persons. The County Cess and the Poor Rate, levied by the direct authority of the State, cannot be assessed arbitrarily, like rent just now, so much on this man and so much on that. The law provides that there shall be a careful valuation of the land beforehand, and that the rate assessed shall correspond with the value. The tenant only asks to put upon the private landlord (insatiable in thepursuit of his own interest) that restraint which the State puts upon itself “( Nation, May 11, 1850)
To obtain the recognition of these rights it was necessary to have a popular organisation and a Parliamentary Party representing it. An organisation which could appoint and cashier members of Parliament would become more formidable in the House of Commons than if its principles were specifically approved of in the Decalogue.
The time was come when a settlement must be made if the Irish race was not to be extirpated, and I warned landlords that if they would not accept a fair rent they might evoke a spirit which would strike against rent altogether till a settlement was accomplished.
That we might be ready for our work a small committee of the best men connected with the movement was formed to prepare the business. By constant consultations, extensive correspondence; and the practice of printing and distributing the agenda among leading men, they laid the basis of unanimity. In the three or four months between the issue of the invitations and the assembly of the conference they were as assiduous as the Ministers of a great State awaiting a new Parliament, and it was during that time that the seed of all future success was sown.
I have described the Tenant League elsewhere.( “League of North and South” London: Chapman and Hall.)
There were nearly three hundred delegates in attendance, mostly representative men, carrying the proxies of a district. There were Presbyterian ministers, afterwards to be Moderators of Synods or professors in colleges; farmers who had manned the local societies, and some of whom were to ripen into members of Parliament; priests, destined to be archdeacons and bishops; and nearly a dozen professional men, who afterwards entered the House of Commons or were legislators in some of the great colonies. I have seen deliberative assemblies in free countries from the Thames to the Arno, and from the German to the Pacific Ocean, but I am persuaded that the picked men of the Tenants’ Conference would match any of them in practical ability and debating power.
Sharman Crawford, who would naturally have presided, was detained in Parliament, and his place was filled by Dr. M’Knight. The secretaries were father Tom O’Shea, Rev. William Dobbin, P.M., and William Girdwood, an Ulster attorney: Reserved, stern Covenanters from the North, ministers and their elders for the most part, with a group of brighter recruits of a new generation, who came afterwards to be known as Young Ulster, sat beside priests who had lived through the horrors of a famine which left their churches empty and their graveyards overflowing; flanked by farmers who survived that evil time like the veterans of a hard campaign; while citizens, professional men, the popular journalists from the four provinces, and the founders and officers of the Tenant Protection Societies completed the assembly.
Day by day capable and energetic Presbyterian ministers worked side by side with Catholic priests of the same calibre in perfect harmony and good faith. When difference of opinion, which is inevitable amongst honest and intelligent men, arose, it was never a difference between North and South. The debates were free and full, but invariably courteous. There was no attempt to stifle dissent, a weak device very common in Irish councils; and the result was a definite plan framed on principles which have since been recognised as just, and which, after long resistance and delay, have all got established by law.
Rents, it was declared, must be fixed by valuation of the land, and the power of raising them at will or recovering a higher rent than the one so established taken away from landlords.
The tenant must have a fixed tenure, and not be liable to disturbance so long as he paid the rent settled by the proposed valuation. If he chose to quit, or if he could not pay his rent, he must have the right to the market value of his tenancy.
One principle which has since been recognised by law, but evaded in practice, is worthy of being set out in the ipsissima verba of the Conference.
Nothing shall be included in the valuation, or be paid under the valuation, to the landlord on account of improvements made by the tenant in possession, or those under whom he claims unless these have been paid for by the landlord in reduced rent or in some other way.
These principles have since blazed like beacon fires in Ireland, sometimes obscured and apparently extinguished, but only to revive again. Sir Robert Peel thought it his duty when he passed the Catholic Emancipation Act to recognise that it was not to him, but to O’Connell in Ireland, and to Whig statesmen in England, that the success of the cause was due; and when he repealed the Corn Laws he attribute to the labours of the Anti-Corn Law League and the unadorned eloquence of Richard Cobden the triumph of which he was the agent, but I do not remember that either Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Parnell, or Mr. Davitt has thought it necessary to acknowledge where the principles of the Land Act of 1881 were first successfully formulated and made articles of popular belief.
The Tenant League
The Conference closed its labours by establishing the Tenant League at a public meeting at which Catholic priests and Presbyterian ministers succeeded each other in the tribune in support of each resolution, A Council was appointed fairly representing the entire country, and it was agreed to raise a fund of ten thousand pounds, for the purposes of the movement, by assessing the counties in proportion to their capacity. We asked for money that many things might be attempted which, without money, were impossible – deputations, tracts, and contested elections being the most familiar. Meetings of the Council were ordered to be held successively in different parts of the country, each to be followed by a county meeting, which should be invited to adopt the principles of the League.
The feeling of the country at these proceedings was divided between satisfaction at the cordial union of the provinces and alarm. at the startling programme. But satisfaction greatly predominated. The journals friendly to tenant-right were jubilant. ‘The Fermanagh Mail’, a strictly Protestant journal, circulating in one of the most Orange districts in the North, broke into poetic prose, which represented characteristically the delirium of the hour :—
“It was a grand, an ennobling sight to see the children of the Covenant from the far North, the Elizabethan settlers from the Ards of Ulster, the Cromwellians of the centre, the Normans of the Pale, the Milesians of Connaught, the Danes of Kerry, the sons of Ith from Corea’s southern valleys, the followers of Strongbow from Waterford and Wexford, and the Williamites from Fermanagh and Meath-all, all uniting in harmonious concert to struggle for this dear old land.”
And a young poet of the Nation sang the event in authentic verse, of which one couplet passed from mouth to mouth :-
“The news was blazed from every hill, and rung from every steeple;
And all the land, with gladness filled, were one united people”
The reception of the League by the country was something as unprecedented as the union from which it sprang. In the first week county meetings were held in Wexford and Kilkenny, where Dr. M’Knight, Rev. John Rogers, Rev. David Bell, and other leading ministers of the Presbyterian Church had a cordial reception, and were overwhelmed with private hospitalities. Sergeant Shee, a leader of the Common Law Bar in London, presided at the Kilkenny meetings and justified the principles of the League, a fact of great significance. In the second week a deputation of Catholic laymen crossed the Boyne, and met a great assembly of tenant farmers at Ballibay, the noted headquarters of the Orangemen of three counties. Resolutions were proposed by Masters of Orange Lodges, and seconded by Catholic priests, and the Reverend Mr, Godkin, my old friend in Belfast, now a Congregational minister .in Londonderry, invited the deputation to go further North, and receive the welcome of Ulster under the historic walls of Derry.
Lucas, who was ordinarily a man of sound judgment, made a mistake at Ballibay which bore bitter fruits. The Rev. David Bell had arranged that the Dublin deputation should stop at the “York Arms,” an hotel kept by the family of Sam Grey, as a sign of amity and unity. As Lucas and I approached the town. we were met by a local agitator named J. J. Hughes, who assured us that the Catholics were indignant at our stopping at the Orange headquarters, and besought us to go elsewhere. I replied that the fact was a signal evidence of the success of our movement, and that if the Orangemen were sacrificing their prejudices Catholics must not cherish theirs. I went to the “York Arms” and had a committee meeting in the evening, but Lucas unfortunately accepted the advice pressed upon us, and went elsewhere, a fact which created ah opinion in the North altogether unfounded, that he was a man of intractable prejudices. The great county of Meath assembled on the banks of the Boyne. An immense meeting was addressed, among others by Sharman Crawford, who justified the principles of valued rents.
The meeting passed a resolution pledging the county to support no candidate at the next election who would not support the principles of the League. Tipperary followed Meath and was followed in its turn by Orange Tyrone, where over the platform waved a banner of orange, green, and blue – colours which had not met in Tyrone in the memory of man except in open conflict. Mr. Powlett Scrope, an English member and well known for his benevolent sympathy with the labouring classes, sent me his congratulations on the union of creeds so long separated, and proclaimed the fundamental principle that “Property can have no rights inconsistent with the welfare of the people”
Donegal followed Tyrone, and Clare followed Donegal, everywhere the union of creeds was complete, and harmonious, and priest and presbyter vied in language of conciliation. They were invited to knock at the gates of Limerick as well as the gates of Derry, once the citadels of contending armies, and they were assured of a cordial welcome in both.
Hope, which had died out of the hearts of the people, rekindled like a torch; money, which had been long refused for all political purposes, came in a golden tide. The League had commenced in autumn) and when the winter was half over local societies were planted in nineteen counties out of thirty-two, an agency which gave the Council more eyes than Argus and more hands than Briareus, and, above all, the basis for obtaining a Parliamentary party was being silently laid. More than thirty constituencies pledged themselves to elect only leaguers prepared to work in and out of Parliament for the establishment of our principles.
On this sunny prospect broke a sudden storm. The appointment of a Catholic Hierarchy in England by the Pope, and Lord John Russell’s famous Durham letter, were occupying all minds.
A vacancy in the Archbishopric of Armagh a little earlier enabled the Pope to appoint to the Primacy Dr. Cullen, Rector of the Irish College at Rome, a man who had spent his life in the labours and traditions of that Imperial City. He came with the additional and unmeasured authority of a Papal Delegate, and was welcomed with an interest not unmixed with awe, He had led a cloistered life in Rome, knew nothing of men, had an inordinate belief in maxims of policy designed for other regions, and a rooted reliance on his own judgment. The new ruler did not realise the common ideal of an Italian ecclesiastical diplomat. He had an awkward, upimpressive figure, and his speech was colloquial and commonplace, but under an unpromising exterior lay a decisive will and an overwhelming sense of authority which, with the mysterious attributes of Delegate of the Holy Father, gave his bearing not dignity indeed, but an air of individuality and power.
His idea of government was said to be simple to nudity. Ireland should be ruled, as Rome was ruled, by ecclesiastics, laymen having no function but to contribute a sympathetic and deferential audience. The lively, joyous, loud speaking Celt, with his strong sense of individuality and keen love of distinction, was a hopeless subject for such an experiment, but of this the new-comer knew nothing.
Dr. Cullen had been in confidential correspondence with Lucas for years, and was pleased with his ability and zeal, and did not doubt that he would fall submissively into his projects. He gave him a subscription for the League, and thought it might do good if it held altogether aloof from rash counsels and temerarious projects of which he believed I was a focus. But Lucas understood the era and the country better than the Primate, and held on his course steadily with the League.
The Irish landlords determined to turn this sectarian feud to their purpose. The Grand Orange Lodge published an exhortation to good Protestants to rally round their menaced institutions, and a great landlord meeting was held in Dublin to kindle the No-Popery feeling of the country anew. No greater danger than this could assail the recent union of North and South, but the Northerners stood firm, and minister after minister at League meetings declared that the clamour of the landlords, and probably of Lord John Russell, was mainly designed to break up the blessed harmony which existed in Ireland.
Catholic Defence Association
Dr. Cullen, zealous for religion and indifferent to everything else, formed a Catholic Defence Association in Ireland, and chose as his principal colleagues and exponents Mr. William Keogh, Mr. John Sadleir, and Mr. John Reynolds, three men whose names need no addition to any reader who has lived in the same generation. Lucas, as a Catholic journalist, necessarily entered into this new Association. I declined to because I was committed to a work of far higher importance, failing whiich another million of the Irish people would be shovelled into pauper graves.
Mr. Keogh was a vigorous speaker, and his confederate, John Sadleir, though never heard in debate, was skilled in the wiles and devices by political dupes are enlisted. These two men saw the opportunity the religious struggles gave them to better their parliamentary position, for the Peelites under Mr. Gladstone and the Free Traders under Mr. Cobden opposed the new Penal Law by which Lord John Russell designed to strike the Cathohc episcopacy. A considerable opposition was created in the House of Commons, and Mr. Keogh, who had rarely given an honest vote or uttered an honest sentiment, returned to Ireland as the champion of the Church and of the country. He wanted a political organisation at his back and a Catholic Defence Association furnished it. It cannot be denied, that the agitation if wisely conducted was justified by the new Whig policy if the interest of Ireland in keeping North and South united was not liable to be imperilled by it. A large number of the Catholic clergy went into the Defence Association; but two sections of them, experienced old parish priests who knew the condition of the rural districts, and vigorous curates whose hearts were aflame with sympathy for the people, remained true to the League.
Lucas endeavoured by private expostulation to realise to the bishops the actual interests of the country at the moment, but he was essentially a Catholic journalist, and in the ‘Tablet’ he maintained a close relation with the policy of the Episcopacy.
Dr. M’Knight was pained and finally exasperated by Lucas’s articles at this time, and naturally sent his complaints to me. But there was no immediate remedy possible.
The General Election A remedy, however, seemed to come in an unexpected direction, Mr. Disraeli, by an adroit motion which the Irish members supported, put Lord John Russell in a minority, and he resigned. If a Government could be formed from the Opposition there was an end to the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill, and Ireland would be free to pursue its more vital purpose alone. But Lord Derby was not able to form a Government at that time, and the Whigs returned to office and carried their Penal Bill into law, but so damaged and discredited that neither they nor their successors ever made any use of it, and it was finally repealed after nearly thirty years.
A little later the Russell Administration was effectually ejected from Downing Street. Lord Derby and Mr. Disraeli sat in their places, supported, however, only by a minority of the House of Commons, and a general election was announced. This was the opportunity the League had long anticipated. A list of trustworthy candidates was immediately prepared, with the name of Sergeant Shee at the head of it. That place was at first assigned to Sharman Crawford, for whom a Southern constituency was provided; but the Northerners insisted that he must fight the county Down, which he alone could win.
Dr. M’Knight found it impracticable to reconcile a Parliamentary career with his office as editor of the ‘Banner of Ulster,’ and Lucas’s name and mine were next on the list. It was only after serious hesitation that I consented to enter Parliament. I had not the deep chest and wide shoulders they need who undertake that exhausting career. But I longed to try the experiment of independent opposition which I had uurged on the Confederation, and to have the tragic story of the lrish tenantry told before the faces of their oppressors.
We sought to strengthen our party by bringing into it a great Englishman, John Stuart Mill, whose opinions we largely shared, and failed only for reasons which he has specified in his memoirs. The first contest befell at New Ross, where I defeated Sir Thomas Redington, Under Secretary to Lord Clarendon, and his active agent during my long contest with him, and who, although, a Catholic, had continued to hold office under Lord John Russell while he passed the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill. This election was one of the most interesting and significant incidents in my life. But I have described it in a former book, and I must not repeat the story here. A birds-eye view of the transaction, however, is indispensable to my memoir.
New Ross asked a candidate from the League, and the Council sent me accompanied by Father Tom O’Shea and S. H. Bindon, the secretary. The most influential member of the Election Committee was well understood to be Father Doyle, the senior curate of the town. We saw him immediately, and while sharing his evening meal he frankly told me that I had no chance of success. The committee were nearly all Old lrelanders, and he was persuaded they would accept no Young Irelander. I induced him to call them together that I might face their objections.
Next morning the committee, which consisted of about two dozen persons, mustered eighteen or twenty, and Father Doyle, who was suffering from influenza, arrived, wrapped in a heavy cloak and muffler, to look on, he said, but not prepared to take part in the proceedings. Three or four members who would not consent to pay me the courtesy of listening to me came to the door and stared in for a minute or two as at some strange animal, and then took their departure. I had formed a resolution during a sleepless night to make that day a cardinal one in my life; it might be one of discomfiture and disaster; but at any rate it should be signal and decisive.
I told the committee I had been forewarned of their prejudice against me because I was associated with men whom I believed to be the most enlightened and disinterested whom Ireland had known in this century, but they had probably only heard one side of the case, and should now hear the other.
A committee who were all Irishmen, who were probably all Repealers, and who had the additional ground of sympathy that they were all Catholics, afforded as fair a tribunal as I could ever hope to appeal to on my past career and my present designs, and I had come to the fixed resolution of accepting their verdict as final, whatever it might be. If after hearing my defence of the conduct of the Young Irelanders, and my aims in entering Parliament they declared that I was not a fit candidate for New Ross, I would abandon my candidature, resign my seat on the Council of the League, discontinue the ‘Nation,’ and retire from Irish affairs for ever. This was my fixed determination, and I spoke for an hour under the strong feeling created by the belief that it was perhaps my last appeal to an Irish audience.
I do not know, and I can never know, to what extent I won the sympathy of the committee, for a factor came into play which baffled all calculation. As soon as I sat down Father Doyle stript off his cloak and muffler, and plunged into the business. He declared he would give me his unequivocal support, and made a passionate appeal for fair play, before which opposition seemed gradually to melt away. There were thrilling cheers which were not for the orator solely, as he urged point after point, and when I withdrew I believed that a majority of the committee were prepared to support me.
The Whigs were alarmed and the local gentry of both parties were besought to lend their help to Redington. The League felt that the contest was about to be a decisive one, and an address to the electors of Ross, signed by fifty leading Leaguers, North and South, lay and clerical, was issued and a strong deputation of Northerners and Southerners addressed the constituency in a public meeting. The landlord of the town and the parish priest were unfriendly to me, and success would have been impossible but for the decisive will of Father Doyle. He had promised his support, he said, and he did not feel relieved from his pledge because his respected pastor had changed his mind. The people, familiar with his daily life and unsleeping services to the poor, accepted his guidance. The contest occupied the Press everywhere, it was the chief topic wherever political issues were debated, and the interest constantly increased. The young priests throughout the diocese of Ferns, some of whom had been Young Irelanders; and all of whom were friends of Father Doyle, trooped in to aid the popular cause, and the result of two days’ canvass was that a majority of the electors were pledged to support Duffy.
The ‘Freeman’s Journal’ announced that the Reform Club in London had granted funds to tamper with the constituency, and then, as a counter move, a public fund was immediately opened to bear the entire expense of the election. The design spread from Dublin to London, and from London to New york. Enough funds, and more than enough, were supplied for the long contest, and the election did not cost me a shilling. I have many times before and since refused to accept tribute or testimonial for public services to the Irish people, but to relieve a man from the necessity of buying a seat which he does not intend to sell is a wise national policy and a good public investment. William O’Hara, uncle of Mrs. John Dillon, when my intention of entering Parliament became public, offered me a qualification by a rent-charge on his estate in the county Dublin; and when a report got about that Redington hoped to defeat me on some supposed informality in this instrument, William Eliot Hudson, living apart from politics, engrossed in the cultivation of national art and literature, sent me a rent-charge on his estate in Cork to make assurance doubly sure.
The organ of the Castle assailed me in every number. I had spent my life in work which at all events was not obscure or discreditable, but the Castle critic declared I was no better than an adventurer, and that it was preposterous to compare my claims with those of the eminent official against whom I had the presumption to appear. I joined issue in a letter, not to the libellers, but to their employer : –
“I am ‘an adventurer’ (it seems) , without stake or fortune in the country.’ Well, be it so. I have no more stake in the country than Henry Grattan had when he entered the Irish Parliament. I am not much richer than Andrew Marvell when he sat in the English Commons. But let it be noted that whatever I have, great or small, was honestly earned. Not a penny of it was won, Sir Thomas, by denying the country or the creed of my fathers. There is no blood-money in it, Mr. Under-Secretary. Dublin Castle stood open for me also if I could walk in the miry footsteps of a Monahan or a Redington. The mart where Irish Catholics are bought, sold, or exchanged at the highest market-price, would not have refused even such humble capacities as mine when it finds it answers to buy up squires from Galway and ‘fat cattle from the banks of the Barrow.’ …I am ‘an adventurer!,’ ‘ Thank Heaven, I am independent,’ Robert Burns wrote, ‘for I have learned to hold a plough,’ if I may venture to echo so noble a sentiment, I would say, ‘Thank Heaven, I am independent, for I have learned to hold a pen!'”
The contest, I reminded my adversary, had begun in the Court in Green Street. In their own dens of law I had defeated him and his patron, Lord Clarendon, and now the case was set down for rehearing at New Ross :-
“There we shall have fair play at last, Mr. Justice Petrin shall not close the door against the people. Mr. Sheriff French shall not pack the panel. Mr. Solicitor Hatchell shall not pick and choose the jury, Mr. Baron Lefroy shall not harangue the audience in’ double- barrelled’ charges. We shall have untainted justice, and you shall remember it to your dying day.”
The prediction was justified. In the end Redington withdrew from the contest in despair. A candidate set up by the owner of the town, however, went to the poll, but by twelve o’clock the contest was over, and I had won by a majority of more than two to one. Even my bitterest Old Ireland opponents in the ,committee voted for me in the end. That night the town was illuminated, and the neighbouring hills blazed with bonfires to celebrate an event which a dozen weeks before seemed impossible.
The victory was pleasant news to my friends beyond the Atlantic. Meagher wrote to me :-
“It was a glorious licking you gave that ‘baptized spaniel’ and all the curs, of high and low degree, that hunted with him. Dillon and O’Gorman thoroughly unite with me in this expression of delight! and have specially requested me to say so.”
I was already a member when Lucas stood for Meath, and able to aid him by my personal presence. From Meath, I went to Kilkenny, where I assisted at the election of Sergeant Shee, and from Kilkenny to Wexford, where the young priests who had aided my contest in New Ross carried the county in favour of one of my friends – Patrick M’Mahon, a barrister practising in London. John Francis Maguire, a popular journalist, was selected for Dungarvan against the influence of the Duke of Devonshire, and Tristram Kennedy for Louth against the influence of all the local gentry. Two Irishmen resident in London, Richard Swift, late Sheriff of Middlesex, and Dr. Brady, a man of large fortune, fought and won under the sanction of the League, counties where great expenditure had become habitual.
We did not attempt to displace men who had distinguished themselves in the Catholic Association, but our friends in their constituencies compelled them to accept a pledge to support Sharman Crawford’s Bill, which included all the leading principles of the League but one. The original union of North and South did not create a greater surprise than the result of these, which secured the return of more than half the Irish members on the new principles.
Meeting & Resolution
When the elections were finished throughout the United Kingdom the Government and the Opposition each claimed a majority. This was the precise result we had hoped for and predicted; for now, plainly, Irish votes would prove decisive. While the new members were still under the spell of the hustings, a conference of the friends of Tenant-Right was summoned by the League, to which all the members pledged to Crawford’s Bill were invited. It met on September 8th in the City Assembly House at Dublin. Upwards of forty members of Parliament, about two hundred Catholic and Presbyterian clergymen, and gentlemen farmers, traders, and professional men from every district in the country, answered the call. Sharman Crawford presided; the Conference deliberated from ten in the morning till ten at night with unbroken temper and courtesy. The object of the Leaguers in this Conference was to obtain the adhesion of the whole body of members to the critical and cardinal policy of Independent Opposition. Some of the old brigade hesitated and made difficulties, but the temper of the Conference could not be mistaken, and Mr. Keogh and his friend Mr. John Sadleir fell in with it, and were zealous for the policy and practice of independence.
The following Resolution was adopted ;-
“That, in the unanimous opinion of this Conference, it is essential to the proper management of this cause that the members of Parliament who have been returned on Tenant-Right principles should hold themselves perfectly independent of and in opposition to all Governments which do not make it a part of their policy and a Cabinet question to give to the tenantry of Ireland a measure fully embodying the principles of Sharman Crawford’s Bill.”
The number of members of Parliament accepting the decision of the Conference amounted to upwards of fifty; and no opposition from any quarter disturbed its unanimity. Since John Forster vacated the chair of the Irish Commons half a century before so effectual and practical a work for Ireland was not accomplished as at these two sittings.
As Mr. Crawford was defeated in Down it was directed by an unanimous vote that Mr.Sergeant Shee, Mr. Keogh, Mr. Lucas, and Mr. Gavan Duffy should be requested to place their names on the back of the Bill and take charge of it.
I stated in the ‘Nation’ the principle of Independent Opposition now at last triumphant as it was understood by the new Party :-
” The Irish members will keep themselves apart as an independent Party and a distinct power; precisely as the Pitt Party, the Peel Party, and the Free Trade Party did when they were small minorities and in hopeless opposition. They will act together; and in order to do so submit individual opinion, within the limits of conscience, to the common sense of the majority. They will vote for every measure of benefit to Ireland, no matter from whom it may proceed.
They will vote against ministers opposed to the Irish measures, not, as the Chronicle alleges, on every question, but on any question (not involving the serious interests of Ireland) on which they can be turned out of office.” Thus the basis was laid for a great Parliamentary campaign for the long-neglected claims of the Irish tenantry.
The Irish people, who are contemptuously, but not altogether unjustly, accused of being incuriosi suorum, and the English people, who are indifferent to whatever is merely Irish, have let the events of this era fall into obscurity, but some of the transactions which are now to be detailed were powerful and permanent factors in the political history of Ireland as it is, and as it is to be.