HC Deb 25 July 1873 vol 217 cc997-8

asked the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether there is any objection to extend the amnesty already accorded to political prisoners to Davitt and Wilson, who were convicted of treason felony at the Central Criminal Court?


I am sorry to say, Sir, that there is a strong and most conclusive reason, one which over-rides every other reason for not extending, this amnesty to the men referred to, and for leading us to conclude that these men are not political prisoners at all in the sense in which indulgence might be extended to prisoners of that character. It is a sound principle of modern administration, that when there has been a convulsion in a country and a contagion of strong feelings has led men to join it—when it is put down by the arm of the law, the individuals who were parties to it should be dealt with very leniently. But, Sir, I know no reason why single individuals who, without the apology of contagion, have endeavoured to bring about bloodshed, should be so dealt with. I look upon it as an abuse and morbid symptom of the feeling of the day to bring such a class into the category of political prisoners. I desire to gain no popularity founded upon any such supposed tendency, for, instead of entertaining such a feeling, I will always be the first to resist it. That is, I hope, a conclusive answer to the Question; and I am sorry that I cannot make any other answer. The offences of these unfortunate men were committed quite apart from Fenian offences. In point of time, these offences were committed and sentence was passed in 1870. They appear to have been part of a secret organization for distributing arms, and, if possible, laying the foundation for future revolution. In ordinary convictions for political offences we can positively and confidentially say that when once public excitement and hazard have passed away, it may be well to stretch a point on the side of mercy; but we are not able to do so in this case, and therefore I am not able to offer any encouragement to my hon. and learned Friend in reference to the Question he has put.