23 JUNE 1888, Page 8


OF all the causes which, but that politicians and pub- licists do not really control history, would make reasonable men despair of a wise solution to the Irish Question, the blind fury which it so excites is the most depressing. Men seem, as regards some incidents of that question, absolutely unable to reason, and can only curse. They do not act as they talk, it is true, for if they did, there would be insurrection on one side and slaughter on the other within a week ; but they use words so as to make government by discussion nearly impossible. Take, for example, the comments on the appeal which Mr. Dillon has just lost. The result is no sooner telegraphed, than one journal favourable to the Union says it is glad Mr. Dillon is sentenced ; another praises the courage of the appellate Judge ; and a third, the strongest of all, intimates that Mr. Dillon's political record and personal character entitle him to no sympathy. Where is the wisdom, not to say the justice, of utterances like those ? It is no matter for glad- - ness, but for deep sorrow, that men to whom Ireland looks for leadership in a political struggle and a social revolution should be so carried away by passion, or, if you will, by a mis- taken sense of duty, as to defy laws passed by an Assembly in which they had their full share of votes. It is no matter of credit to the Judge that he carried out the law, though it would have been of discredit if he had failed to do so ; and as to Mr. Dillon's personal character, what had it to do with the justice of his sentence ? Suppose he had been, say, Colonel Gordon, and under some erratic notion of duty had adjured all men on the coast to smuggle lace,—could Magistrates have done other than condemn him ? On the other hand, those who detest the Union burst at the news into a fury that seems hardly sane, declare the Government diabolic, the Magistracy corrupt, and Mr. Dillon a man whose character should place him above the law. Where is the wisdom, not to say the justice, of such out- pourings as those ? Can a just Government abstain from prosecutions ordered by law because those who break them are leading politicians ; or can just Magistrates acquit because, if they do, they will be popular; or ought good men, in virtue of their goodness, to be above the law of the land ? Our own estimate of Mr. Dillon is, we con- fess, nearer that of his friends than of his foes. He is unscrupulous in statement, and blind to the moral wrong which, as the Head of his own Church tells him, is in- volved in the methods of the League ; but he is, in his devotion to Ireland, fanatically sincere, he is quite disin- terested, and he is the nearest approach to a fascinating personality that his party has brought forward to the light. But his sincerity and his character and his hold over the affections of his countrymen are all the more reasons why just tribunals should apply the law in his case as in any other. If the law has been strained, that is a different matter ; but that is surely a subject for grave reasoning among experts, not for outbursts of fury among politicians and publicists who, by the very passion they avow and exult in, are disqualified from sitting as a Court of Revision. Suppose the case brought up in Parliament, discussed with that heat, and decided on either side by a purely party vote ? Would that result, in either case, be a credit or a discredit to civilisation? To us it seems that it would be a retrogression of centuries, to the bad times when Bills of Attainder were possible, and it was thought .a good argument to say that his Sacred Majesty or "the people of this country" held the acceused to be innocent or guilty. The very first note of our modern progress is that offences against the law, whether committed by popular favourites or by public enemies, are tried by Courts and not by partisans, that Mr. Gladstone and the last d.ynamitard are equally subject to and equally protected by the tribunals alone. Suppose Mr. Gladstone or Lord Salisbury struck a policeman. Are they to be tried by the House of Commons, or a jury of editors, or a mass meeting, instead of the nearest Magistrate ? The source of all this fury, among voters at least, if not among Members, is the prevalence of a pure illusion. England having for many years been untroubled by overt treason, opinion has become wonderfully mild about political offences, and it begins to be held that such offences should not be punished at all. From that opinion the corollary is deduced that Irishmen who are guilty of political offences should not be punished at all. We cannot agree in the postulate, holding that an attack on society may be one of the highest of those offences which society has the right to prohibit, and even on occasion,—e.g., an insurrection in defence of slavery—one of the highest offences against the moral law ; but we need not discuss that now. Our point is, that even granting the postulate, the corollary cannot be drawn, for no political offence is being punished in Ireland. Mr. Dillon or any inferior colleague may make the strongest speech against Union or in favour of Home-rule which it is in his heart to utter, and no one will dream of a prosecu- tion which, even if instituted, must fail. We greatly doubt if even a speech on behalf of independence is illegal, provided it is independence under the Queen, the charge of treason, the only one that could be brought, being one of treason to the Sovereign, not the nation. It is not for their speeches on politics, but for their speeches on the agrarian revolt and the methods of making that successful, that the Irish leaders are condemned,—a question as far apart from politics as any other question of property or tenure. If Parliament has no moral right to make laws affecting tenure, it has no moral rights at all ; and if it has a moral right, then it has also aright to punish those who resist those laws, and those who incite to such resistance. We cannot even conceive an answer to that proposition, even if in such in- citement there were no incitement to use immoral means,— means, that is, condemned by the instinctive conscience,— as the majority of the people, and the Pope, and we ourselves would affirm. And recollect, in so stating the case, we at least are influenced by no English or landlord prejudice. As to all but their evil methods, we are on the side of the Irish farmers. Not only have we for twenty years argued against the English tenure in Ireland, but we are urging even now at every opportunity that it should be revolutionised in accordance with the Irish wish, and, in part, at the cost of the British people. But our wish to see the peasantry own the soil cannot blind us, and ought not to blind any decent man, to the plain fact that the "Plan of Campaign" involves robbery, and that to incite to resistance of the law intended to foil the " Plan " is a moral as well as a statutory offence, which Magistrates, when it is proved before them, are bound to punish. That the penalty falls upon prominent men, or able men, or good men, is only one proof among a thousand how often such men are in revolutionary times carried away till they cannot, or, at all events, do not, distinguish between crimes and political acts, between those offences which, when politicians overlook, they are only lenient— often, it may be, wisely lenient—and those offences which, when they overlook, they debase their own inner sense of right. To condemn such a law and its execution, as it is said the Liberal Party, as a whole, intend to do, by a direct motion in Parliament, is simply to condemn law altogether, and moral law, too, whenever it happens to be directly opposed to the passion of the hour.