THE DILLON CASE.
MR. DILLON has at least succeeded in making himself the Irish hero of the moment. A man who has just heard on the highest authority that h's action is perfectly illegal, and yet throws himself into that action with all the vigour of fresh conviction on the very morrow of the Court's decision, deserves, no doubt, to be an Irish hero, as Irish heroes are now, and we do not doubt that Mr. Dillon will soon receive an idolatry that may make Mr. Parnell a little anxious and jealous. But the Government were certainly quite right in stopping his flagrant defiance of the law with a strong hand. That a man who had been allowed twelve days to consider his course, should on the morrow of that decision announce to all the world that his course would take no note at all of the Irish Courts of Law, is a proceeding which, if tolerated, would render law in Ireland an empty name. The Government have not been at all too peremptory in their action. Mr. Dillon and his companions chose to flaunt their contempt of Court before all the world, and a Government that had tolerated this would have fallen into contempt itself. Mr. Dillon assured the Court in his speech that he intended to go on with the agita- tion on which the decision of the Court was just about to be pronounced. The Judges ignored this statement, hoping, no doubt, that it would be easier for Mr. Dillon to reconsider h's purpose after hearing their judgment, if they did not menace him with immediate arrest in case he should per- severe in his agitation, than if they did. In that we think they were wise. But no moderation avails with men like Mr. Dillon. And now the inevitable but long postponed collision between the National League and the Government has come. We are not sorry for it. We trust that it may show a good number of the more reasonable Home-rulers how dangerous it is to trust Ireland at the present time to the control of the party which has organised this most lawless and tyrannical policy.
No one who had the slightest tincture in him of either law or justice can have had the faintest doubt of how the judgment would go. As Mr. Justice Johnson very plainly said, the juris- diction of the Court in relation to Mr. Dillon's agitation was not derived from the old statute to which appeal had specially been made, and which, as Mr. Dillon contended, had been wrested from its natural meaning to apply it to this case. It was derived "from the old right which the Court possessed when it had to follow the King or Queen about the Kingdom for the pur- pose of aiding in the preservation of the public peace. Civil contracts lay at the root of social order in the Kingdom, and if they were allowed to be broken, public disorder would be the result." Some of Mr. Dillon's language, added the same Judge, "meant actual personal intimidation, as when Mr. Dillon said that there were hundreds of farms in Kerry on which no person dare lay his foot." Mr. Justice O'Brien's calm and stately judgment was to the same purport :—" The organisa- tion which Mr. Dillon had recommended with so much power, eloquence, and sincerity of conviction, was not merely a com- bination not to pay rent, but it was a combination that sought, among other objects, to receive rents from those whose duty it was to pay them ; to place them in other hands, subject to loss, waste, and risk ; and to devote these rents to other objects than those to which by law they should be devoted." Indeed, Mr. Dillon, with that frankness with which he always delights to confess that he is resisting the law, had acknowledged as much in his own address to the Court. "The Attorney- General," declared Mr. Dillon, "had said that he had advised tenants who could pay not to pay, as well as those who could not pay. He admitted fully that he advised combination among the tenantry, not because he wanted to bring about lawlessness or disorder, but because he wanted to raise the Irish people from the destitution and misery which followed a similar condition of things in times past." In other words, he advised tenants who were not over-rented, who in some cases, perhaps, were living at an exceptionally low rent, to cheat the landlord of what they knew to be his just due in their own case, in order to force more effectually on him the reduction of the rent of tenants who were over-rented. Was not that a very sure means to bring about "lawlessness and disorder," and a very bad means to prevent destitution and misery? It was teaching tenants, under a hypocritical plea of charity to their neighbours, to despoil their creditors of a debt which they knew to be just, and which they had ample means to pay. We cannot help thinking that, in their otherwise admirable judgments, the Judges went beyond what was either wise or just in their compliments to Mr. Dillon's motives. No one who knows Mr. Dillon attributes to him any selfish or corrupt motive. But a motive which is not in the least selfish or corrupt may be anything but "pure." Would any Judge have ventured to attribute a pure motive to the Italian agitators who proposed to bring about the assassination of Charles Albert ? Yet if ever there were men who utterly lost themselves in their country, they were undoubtedly those Italian agitators. Motives which are fanatically disinterested may be very far indeed from pure. When a man so identifies himself with a cause into which he has thrown his whole heart and soul as to overleap all the bounds of ordinary morality, then, however disinterested he may be, however passionately he may merge his personal interests, and however boldly he may risk his life itself, in the struggle to which he has committed himself, his motive can hardly be pure, unless, indeed, his mind and character be so utterly blinded by passion as to rob him of all voluntary choice. It appears to us that Mr. Dillon, in his hatred of the existing government of Ireland and his passion of pity for the Irish peasantry,—and we do not know which motive is the stronger in him,—has completely ignored the disastrous results of teaching the Irish people to make light of their most deliberate contracts, and to squeeze unjust gain for themselves out of their pity for the hardships of others. And the motives of an agitator who will do this, ought not to be pronounced on authority to be "pure." For the rest, we have only to congratulate the country that the Government, fortified by the judgment of the Irish Court of Queen's Bench, are resolute to put down this thoroughly illegal agitation, though we hope that in taking this course they will not in any way abate their sympathy with really over- rented tenants. It will not be an easy thing, we fear, to pre- vent other agitators, with the National League behind them, from doing what Mr. Dillon and Mr. O'Brien have done, and so wearying out the Administration with the necessity for reiterated prosecutions. But it ought to be done, and done firmly. We are quite sure that the Government had arrived at the critical moment ; and that they have now taken a wise decision. Most of the landlords, as Mr. Dillon fully admits, have made to their tenants very just and adequate reductions of rent. It is only the few,—we hope the very few,—who are insisting on rents which cannot really be paid. This being so, the tenants are everywhere hesitating. In many cases, we believe that those who have nominally and openly adhered to Mr. Dillon's plan of campaign have not really done so. They have given small subscriptions to the National League, but retained their rents in their own hands, instead of entrusting them to the officers of the League, as the plan of campaign required. They are, in fact, waiting to see how the battle goes. If the Government persevere boldly in prohibiting and punishing this most. demoralising agitation, the tenants who can pay their rents will pay them, and the campaign will collapse. If the Govern- ment should vacillate,—which seems now almost out of the question,—they might lose the battle at the very moment when a substantial, and perhaps final victory, is in their power. We feel sure now that there will be no weak- ness. The Government, with all their legitimate and just pity for the poor Irish tenantry, will not forget that there is in this agitation a much greater danger than even the danger of some unjust though legal evictions. If the Irish people are to learn that after accepting the protection of the law for themselves against their landlords, they may evade for themselves the obligations laid upon them whenever they can find an excuse in the condition of their poorer neigh- bours,—although any evasion of a like kind on the part of their landlords would be regarded as the most monstrous and criminal oppression,—the law would be permanently degraded in Ireland, and come to be regarded as a mere weapon of offence by which one class makes war upon another. We can imagine no calamity for Ireland so great as this. And yet it is this very calamity which Archbishop Walsh, Mr. Dillon, Mr. O'Brien, and other so-called patriots,—some of them, no doubt, real patriots, if real patriotism is consistent with committing sins for your country which the offender would disdain to commit for himself,—are doing all in their power to bring about. The moment has arrived when strength of purpose is the first condition of success, and we believe that the Government will now display that strength as satisfactorily as they have hitherto displayed their moderation.