30 OCTOBER 1880, Page 5


WE cannot follow the reasoning of those Liberals, English or Irish, who oppose the proposed prosecutions in Ire- land, as being persecutions. Their argument seems to us nothing but a reassertion of the old "right of insurrection," which unquestionably exists, but which no Government can be expected, or indeed allowed, to admit. Every Liberal, of every shade, admits that there are circumstances under which subjects acquire a moral right to revolt, and even to use force against their rulers, and most Liberals admit that the circum- stances may conceivably be so extreme as to make revolt an imperative duty. The right of revolt belonged to the Vene- tians under Austria, and revolt after the massacre of Batuk became an imperative duty for the Bulgarians. But no Liberal of sense has ever denied that a Government, and especially a representative Government, had also a right to exercise a moderate and humane, but adequate, repression, especially such repression as is involved in an appeal to independent Law Courts, or that repression on behalf of order might not become a duty. To say that every great project of reform has pro- duced men who advocated resistance to the law is perfectly true, and perfectly beside the question. Such men may have been morally blameless, or even, as in the John Brown case, men of the highest Christian heroism, and still Govern- ment may have been in the right in treating them as

law-breakers. The condition of freedom is obedience to law. When Lord Stanley jumped on the table and de- clared that if the Reform Bill was not passed he should advise the people to pay no taxes, he helped on a beneficent revolution ; but the Government would not have been unjust, though possibly most unwise, in prosecuting him for his speech. In the present instance, the Government are believed to intend to prosecute men who, as they think, have been inciting the people to break the law, and even in certain cases to rebel, and to institute the prosecution in a city where sympathisers with the agitators number thousands, and before Juries so favourable that one grand objection to the trial is a supposed certainty that no juryman will convict men so accused. On what argu- ment can a prosecution under such circumstances be considered oppressive ? Because the Government is acting from a tyrannical motive ? If there is one thing certain about this Government, it is that it loathes the old tyranny in Ireland, that it hates the very notion of governing through a state of siege, that it has refused popularity to be purchased by coer- cion, and that had it been possible, it would have avoided any appeal either to force or to the law, before it could submit the wide remedial proposals it has prepared. Because there is no adequate evidence ? That is a matter for the Jury ; but of prinid facie evidence, there is surely sufficient. If the Land League has not incited the population to resist the law, so far as the law justifies eviction, the fixing of rent by contract, and the taking of farms emptied by decree of Court, it is the most misrepresented body that ever existed, and misrepresented by its own members and chiefs. It avows every day that this is its object, denounces the law as bad and oppressive, and encourages the people to resist its execution by all means except assassination. Different speakers go very different lengths, but the broad facts are scarcely denied, and are as patent to us who hold that the tenantry have a genuine grievance, calling for radical reform, as to the landlord who, furious at his losses and his danger, talks non- sense about the congenital wickedness of Irish cultivators. The legal .responsibility for certain speeches may be doubtful, and we shall never support any straining of the law, but to say that there is no prinfii facie evidence of law-breaking in a

speech like that in which Mr. Healey threatened tenants by name with " visits " from the Land League, or in which Mr. Parnell declared that Irishmen might in certain contingencies rely on help from the "trained and organised" strength of America, is a childish perversion of facts. If Mr. Healey did not mean that those who resisted the Land League ought to be punished by the people, or Mr. Parnell did not mean that America would help an Irish insurrection, they were so mis- using words that argument is worthless. A Government must a21 on the assumption that men have a meaning in what they sly, and if this were not the meaning, what was ? It is cer- ttinly the meaning understood by those addressed, and that is the important fact.

Or, finally, is the objection to the prosecution this, that all these speeches do no harm, and only reflect without increasing the agitation of the people ? Well, we will try to be as just to the Land League as if we were Land Leaguers ourselves. We admit that English sentiment does exaggerate the disorder prevalent in Ireland, that it is confined to counties, that it is not diffused through all classes, and that it has its ultimate cause, not in speeches, but in deep and justified agrarian discontent. No fire, however fiery, can burn unless there is fuel. And we will also admit most cordially that where dis- order exists, it is accompanied by a singular absence among the people of crime not of the agrarian kind. But then a Govern- ment is just as much bound to protect people in a county, as in a country ; to carry out agrarian laws, as laws of any other kind ; to defend landlords who own land, or tenants who hare bought holdings, as to defend bankers entrusted with cash, or shopkeepers who have bought spoons. The Government allege that certain classes in certain places are threatened in their legal rights by speeches of certain agitators, and the agitators, but for the law, would say that it was true, and that they were heartily proud of the truth. They do not mean their speeches to be sterile. They mean them to influence evicting landlords and " treacherous " tenants, and compel them to give up rights secured to them by law.

The Government, therefore, protect the law, by asking the Courts to decide if the Leaguers are not law-breakers ; and if they are law-breakers, then to punish, so that others may be

deterred from law-breaking of a similar kind. It seems to us that there is no injustice in this, that it is, indeed, the duty

of the Government, even if it does not believe that a trial will terminate agitation. It does, however, believe it ; and it has on its side the evidence not only of history, but of the furious rage into which the resolve has thrown Mr. Parnell, who is in general self-restrained, but who now assails Mr. Forster, one of the most determined friends of Ireland, in the coarsest Billingsgate, breaks into menaces, which hitherto he has avoided, and even declares that his ultimate design is not the removal of a grievance of the tenant-farmers, but to dissever Ireland, with American aid, altogether from Great Britain.

But, say another section of the Liberals, the prosecutions will fail. Government had much better take power to sus- pend the Habeas Corpus Act, and put the League under lock and key at once. That is just what we deny. The British Government is not bound to govern only, but to govern con- stitutionally; and the first principle of the Constitution is that the despotic power entrusted to Parliament shall not be used to set aside law, until the law has failed to protect public order. Government could almost extinguish certain forms of crime—professional burglary, for instance—by locking up a few hundreds of persons, but a law authorising Sir W. Har- court to lock up anybody whom the police believed to be a burglar would be considered a monstrous stretch of the pre- rogative of Parliament. If burglary could not be held in check without it, such a law would be passed, but there must first of all be clear evidence that burglars could not be reached by regular law. It is quite possible that the prosecution may fail, and the possibility is a curious testimony to the immovable fairness of the Government ; but till that has ocourred, and occurred in such a way that law is seen to be inoperative, the Government has no excuse for despotism, except in the allegation that despotism in Ireland has always been successful, and that is false. It has always been unsuc- cessful,—so unsuccessful that at this moment, after centuries of coercion, it is an open question whether the law has any strength at all, whether any jury could be got together with- out packing which, on any evidence, would convict a popular law-breaker. It seems to us that to assume that law is power- less on agrarian questions, is to give up the Liberal argument as regards Ireland altogether, and to announce that the Island must be governed as a dependency occupied by a hostile garrison. That is just what Mr. Parnell says. That is his whole case, and, so far as he believes it, his justification for an appeal to revolutionary modes of action. Ile says the English prate of their Constitution, but whenever discontent grows deep in Ireland they suspend it. That has been true till this year, and the justification of Mr. Forster's policy is that, if it succeeds, Mr. Parnell's assertion will be true no longer.