§ MR. PARNELL
rose to move—That this House considers the re-arrest of Mr. Michael Davitt was not warranted by his conduct during the interval which has elapsed since his release on ticket-of-leave, and is further of opinion that the length of the term, and the nature of the penal servitude previously suffered by Mr. Davitt, warrant his liberation.The hon. Gentleman said, that, in calling the attention of the House to the re-arrest of Mr. Michael Davitt, he thought he would be able to show the House that the re-arrest, in the circumstances under which it took place, was unprecedented in the history of re-arrests of prisoners who had been released as Mr. Davitt was released. Mr. Davitt was convicted in 1869 or 1870 of the offence of supplying arms for the purpose of making war against the Queen. He was convicted in England before an English jury on the testimony, he (Mr. Parnell) believed, of a common informer. He was sentenced to 15 years' penal servitude. Another man who was convicted at the same time, a man named Wilson, a gun-maker, who was alleged to have made the rifles in question, and who was an Englishman, was sentenced to seven or ten years' penal servitude, from which he was liberated after he had served five years. In 1877, Mr. Davitt still remained in penal servitude. In 1877, the hon. Member for Mayo (Mr. O'Connor Power), on the Report of the English Prisons Bill, moved that it was desirable to extend the scope of the Bill to convict prisoners, and incidentally, during the discussion of that Motion, he referred to the case of his friend Mr. Davitt, who was then in prison, in illustration of the hardships to which many prisoners then in convict prisons were subjected. The debate on that Motion, and the interest it excited, had such an effect upon the then Conservative Government that, combined with other reasons, they shortly afterwards liberated on ticket-of-leave all the remaining political prisoners who were then in prison, numbering altogether five. One of these persons— Colour-Sergeant M'Carthy— died of heart disease shortly after his liberation, and a Coroner's Jury of respectable tradesmen in Dublin returned a verdict to the effect that his death had been accelerated by his prison treatment. 511 Of the others, O'Brien and Chambers were still at large on ticket-of-leave. Mr. Davitt took a prominent part in politics after his liberation, and was, practically speaking, the founder of the Land League movement. [Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT: Hear, hear!] During the 12 or 18 months which that movement lasted Mr. Davitt took a very prominent part in England, and Ireland, and America in aiding the organization and objects of the Land League. During the term of Office of the late Government Mr. Davitt was arrested, by direction, he supposed, of the Lord Lieutenant, and was brought for trial. The initial proceedings were taken before the magistrates at the Petty Sessions at Sligo on a charge of sedition contained in one or more of his public speeches. The magistrates investigated the case, and committed Mr. Davitt for trial; but bail was accepted, and Mr. Davitt was released, and continued his public course with regard to the purposes of the National Land League. When the time came for the proceedings against Mr. Davitt in Dublin before a special jury, the Crown declined to proceed further in the matter, and the Conservative Government went out of Office. Upon a Question addressed by him (Mr. Parnell) to the present Attorney General for Ireland as to whether he intended to proceed against Mr. Davitt, the right hon. and learned Gentleman informed him that he did not intend to proceed further in the matter. Mr. Davitt subsequently went to America; but on hearing of the commencement of the State prosecutions he returned to Ireland, as Mr. Davitt considered it his duty to be at the post of danger, though he and all Mr. Davitt's friends specially requested him to continue in America, in order that he might help the Land League more advantageously. Mr. Davitt, however, returned to Ireland, where he remained from November until the day of his re-arrest— namely, about the 4th of February, by the direction, it might be supposed, of the present Home Secretary. He did not know any cause for Mr. Davitt's re-arrest. No convict was re-arrested unless he had done something in violation of the conditions of his ticket-of-leave, or was engaged in some unlawful conduct. He thought the onus of proving that Mr. Davitt had done either of those things was thrown on the Government. 512 Soon after Mr. Davitt's re-arrest he asked the Home Secretary which of the conditions of the ticket-of-leave Mr. Davitt had broken, and the Home Secretary had refused to answer this, implying that neither of the conditions had been broken. On a subsequent occasion a similar Question was addressed to the Home Secretary by his hon. Friend (Mr. J. Cowen), and he thought the Home Secretary definitely stated that Mr. Davitt had not been re-arrested on the ground of any breach of the conditions contained in his ticket-of-leave. But if Mr. Davitt was not arrested for a breach of the conditions contained in his ticket-of-leave, he must have been arrested for the speeches he delivered in connection with the land movement in Ireland. Mr. Davitt delivered 15 speeches after his return from America, between the 22nd of November, 1880, and the 3rd of February, 1881. He (Mr. Parnell) had gone carefully over all those speeches, and he found that they were characterized, to an eminent degree, by their moderation of tone, and by the fact that in almost every one of them—he thought that in all but two of them—Mr. Davitt emphatically urged the people to refrain from any outrage whatever, and from any violation of the law. He thought he could best impress the House with an opinion of Mr. Davitt's conduct—the conduct for which he was arrested—by reading some extracts he had culled from Mr. Davitt's speeches, so that the House might judge for itself as to the general tone and character of the speeches for which the ticket-of-leave was revoked. At Ballynamara, Cork, on the 22nd of November, Mr. Davitt said—John Bright had always spoken out honestly for Ireland as an Englishman, and while he apmitted that, and would willingly give him all the credit due to him, still John Bright, far in advance as he was of every English statesman, was not yet sufficiently advanced to meet the views of the Irish people on this Land Question. He thought that Mr. Bright, being a conscientious statesman, could be educated into fuller belief in this programme, provided the Land League organization and the tenant farmers of Ireland made up their minds now, and during1 the coming winter, not to accept any half measure or any tinkering legislation on this Irish Land Question.Mr. Davitt, when alluding to his recent tour in America, said—Nothing tends to injure our cause with the American people so much as the occasional acts 513 of violence which injustice prompts to commit in parts of the country. The landlord organs here and in England take care to colour these occurences, so as to represent them as directly resulting from the agitation and teachings of the Land League (cries of ' It is false '). I believe, from my own intercourse with representative Americans and newspaper men in the United States, that the Irish landlords could do nothing better to create sympathy for their cause and obtain a condemnation of ours in America than to shoot a half-dozen of their number, with a few agents thrown in, to swell the horror, and then charge the deed upon the Land League and the tenant farmers of Ireland. (Lengthened cheering.) Let the world see that we have higher game in sight and a nobler object in view than stooping to war on any miserable individual, while the system that makes him the instrument of tyranny still stands upon our shores, and frowns down the happiness and prosperity of our nation (loud cheers).He should not wish to use many words of his own; but he wished to put Michael Davitt's words before the House, and though he was imprisoned, and though he should die there, long after his death his words would live in the hearts of the Irish people. At Sligo, on November 29, he said—To Mr. Charles Russell is due the credit of having offered the fairest plan of settlement yet outside the Land League, and I feel assured that our people generally will appreciate the warm interest which he has manifested in the cause of Irish Land Reform…. Let nothing be done or attempted which can endanger this great movement, and give your enemies the advantage over you. Let false friends and land-grabbers be ' Boycotted,' but refrain from any and all acts of violence. If I cared to parade the wrongs which landlordism has inflicted upon me and mine, perhaps there is no man in Ireland to-day who has more cause to harbour feelings of revenge than I have; but revenge is an ignoble feeling, the cultivation of which destroys the better and more manly at tributes with which God has endowed men to combat wrong and vindicate right, and should not be allowed to usurp the mind or direct the impulse of Christian men. The revenge which we should seek in this great movement is to strike down ignorance by labouring to remove its cause, to see the miserable hovels of our people—the blots upon the social life of Ireland, as well as upon its landscape beauty—pulled down and replaced by neat and comfortable dwellings, plenty and wholesome food substituted for the Indian meal stir about and rotten potatoes, which have impoverished the physical life of our people, rags replaced by respectable raiment, and general prosperity rising victorious over national poverty (cheers). Let the victims of the Land League movement be injustice, ignorance, social degradation, and pauperism.These were noble sentiments, which did not entitle the utterer to the penal cell, 514 but to high honour and emolument from the State. At Mitchelstown, on December the 7th, 1880, Mr. Davitt said—Band together, then, in open combination for your just rights…. ' Boycott,' but do not injure your enemies and false friends, and no power on earth can save Irish landlordism from destruction, or prolong the poverty and misery which have hitherto been your lot (loud cheers)." [During Mr. Davitt's speech it was significant that a man who called out ''Shoot the landlords," was roughly taken in hand and kicked out as a disturber.]At Blessington, on December the 14th, Mr. Davitt said—I am not here to ask any man to commit any act or any outrage which would be repudiated or condemned from any platform or pulpit in the land. I do not require you, neither does the Land League, to lay a hand upon a single hair of any man's head.At the weekly meeting of the Land League, in Dublin, on December the 15th, Mr. Davitt spoke as follows: —They were not there to palliate or to justify in the least any outrage that had been committed since the land movement commenced. …. While denouncing these manufactured outrages he desired it to be understood as not in the least excusing any of those outrages that had taken place (hear, hear) … Threatening letters are as unnecessary as they are stupidly criminal and unjustifiable, and we feel assured that no member of our organization has resorted to such a method of making just demands which invites the stigma of cowardice, and clumsily plays into the hands of the landlords. If a just right cannot fearlessly be demanded by a victim of landlord power when a powerful organization is at his back to protect him, he deserves neither a concession from the landlord nor assistance from the League in obtaining it …. In speaking of the injuries inflicted upon dumb animals we cannot for a single instant believe that either the numerous reports of these monstrous outrages, which the landlord organs are publishing, or that a single man within the ranks of our organization would be guilty of participating in the few cases which, we are sorry to say, have been authenticated. No injustice in the power of Irish landlordism to perpetrate upon the people could justify in the least degree the unfeeling brutality which inflicts injuries or suffering upon harmless and defenceless animals in revenge for the wrongs committed by their owners … A fair and judicious use of the power of combination against the enemies of the people, traitors to the League, or instruments of unjust eviction, or other landlord injustice, will work the requirements of our movement in the present crisis without any resort to moans or methods which would offer a pretext for foul play against the organization, or estrange the moral support of public opinion outside of Ireland from a just and noble cause …. He had just one remark to make in reference to what was known as ' Boycotting.' He did not speak on behalf of the executive, but merely as a member of the executive, when 515 he said that what might be used as a just and legitimate weapon when properly directed might degenerate into a means of doing injury or wrong against those who had committed no offence against the movement (hear, hear). He trusted that the officers of the various branches of the Land League throughout the country would endeavour to prevent the name of the Land League or its influence being used in miserable squabbles between individuals in parishes or towns throughout the country. When the movement was called into existence it was undertaken by men who were desirous of advancing the social good of the people of Ireland, and none of them who had taken any part in founding that would approve of its being used in the way which it was, he was sorry to say, being used in some parts of the country (hear, hear).Mr. Davitt spoke as follows at a meeting at the Curragh on December the 20th: —They think they can goad our people in Ireland, all defenceless as they are, into making an attempt on the military, in order that they may be mowed down. But they will find that the people of Ireland to-day are too well educated to rush heedlessly to destruction. They will find that we have another, and probably surer, way of settling the Land Question.At Rathcoole, County Dublin, on December the 22nd, he spoke as follows: —What the Land League proposed—that instead of having one individual tenant farmer taking the settlement of the Irish Land Question into his own hand by resorting to violence against one landlord—was the more efficacious and more systematic remedy for getting rid of the system. This was by combination and by loyal action between the tenant farmers and the labourers. There was no necessity for making this great organization an engine of tyranny or oppression to any class throughout the country. He had a few words to say to them on the question of 'Boycotting' (cheers). It was a weapon that might be put to uses that it never was intended for; and he was sorry to say that in some instances throughout the country it had been resorted to against individuals who had never injured this movement, and who were not the enemies of the League. He hated tyranny. He hated it whether it came from the landlords or from the ranks of the Irish National Land League. He had warred against tyranny since he was a boy, and he would war against it to the end of his days; and as one of the Irish National Land League he would set his face, and would endeavour to set the organization, against this weapon being used against any man in Ireland simply because he refuses to join the Irish Land League. If they denounced coercion coming from the Government, or injustice coming from the landlords, how could they sanction coercion from their own ranks? (Hear, hear.) This was a great moral organization for a moral purpose, and it must be carried on on moral lines. And while the Land League would never shrink from doing its duty to the tenant farmer, it would set its face against the unjust use of this weapon of 'Boycotting' (hear, hear).516 At Kilbrin, near Kanturk, on January the 17th, he said—Despite the efforts that are being made to drive you from stern, passive attitude into loose and violent action, adhere to the programme of the League, and repel every incentive to outrage and every inducement to give your enemies an opportunity of wiping out this movement in the blood of Irishmen (enthusiastic cheering) … But glorious indeed will be our victory, and high in the estimation of mankind will our grand old fatherland stand, if we can so curb our passions and control our acts in this struggle for free land as to march to success through provocation and danger without resorting to the wild justice of revenge, or being guilty of anything which could sully the character of a brave and Christian people (renewed cheering).The hon. Gentleman also read an extract from Mr. Davitt's speech at the Land League mooting in Dublin on the 3rd of February, 1881, which was supposed to have been the cause of his arrest, and in which he called the Chief Secretary for Ireland "Mr. Outrage Forster." The extract was as follows: —The reasons, he thought, which should prompt them to call this Convention now were —first, to show Mr. Forster and England, by an assemblage of the League representatives in Dublin, that the local leaders of the organization are neither ruffians, blackguards, nor scoundrels; and, second, to show Mr. Outrage Forster, the chief slanderer of Ireland, that his Coercion Bill will not strike terror into the hearts of the Land League.He was arrested a few days afterwards. That was his last speech; and that was the only speech which departed from the moderate and even language which Mr. Davitt was in the habit of using. But even the appellation of "Mr. Outrage Forster" was not, he submitted, sufficient to justify the arrest of this noble man—noble in the best sense of the word, from the fact that he possessed the best attributes that it was possible to poor human nature—and dooming him to the horrors of a penal cell. It was not enough that a man able to utter such sentiments at a time of great provocation—such provocation that very few men imitated his moderate language; no man did, not even himself (Mr. Parnell)—it was not sufficient that Mr. Davitt had suffered seven years' of penal servitude, during which he had received the most infamous treatment— treatment which, he was happy to say, had now been remedied for the better, though the discipline of penal servitude must be still severe. That treatment was 517 referred to by Mr. O'Connor Power in 1877; and in one of Michael Davitt's letters, read at that time, he stated that in consequence of that treatment he suffered from catarrh and excessive spitting of phlegm, and that the climate was so severe, and the food so bad and filthy, that it was a wonder that the men could bear out against the cold and hunger. He would now ask the House to agree to the terms of his present Resolution, which were these—That this House consider the re-arrest of Mr. Michael Davitt was not warranted by his conduct during the interval which has elapsed since his release on ticket-of-leave, and is further of opinion that the length of the term, and the nature of the penal servitude previously suffered by Mr. Davitt, warrant his liberation.In a pamphlet written by Mr. Davitt, he stated that the constant story of the English Press was that the Land League never denounced crime; but he could not believe in the truth of the enormous outrages that the landlord organs published, or that a single man in their body would be guilty of participating even in the few cases that were authenticated, because nothing could justify brutality that would inflict suffering on harmless animals. As he (Mr. Parnell) had said, the belief in Ireland was that the arrest was in consequence of Davitt's attack upon the Chief Secretary. It was upon that ground that it was supposed the arrest was ordered by the Home Secretary; but there was no doubt that Mr. Davitt would have been arrested sooner or later, and at least they might have given him the comparative leniency of treatment by detaining him under the Protection of Person and Property Act. If the Government had only waited for a few days it would have been in their power to have re-arrested him under the provisions of the Act. They knew that Davitt's power as a public speaker, his great earnestness and energy, his wonderful belief in his cause, his great influence with Irishmen, would have compelled the Government to have arrested him; but at least they might have done it in an honourable and respectable manner. The hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen) had justly characterized Mr. Davitt's arrest as the meanest and most contemptible act ever done by any Government. Mr. Davitt had at least earned a right to the comparative leniency of treatment involved in detention under the Coercion Act; 518 and why had the Government gone back upon the old offence committed by Mr. Davitt when he was little more than a boy, in the first enthusiasm of youth, and when he thought he would have freed his country by taking the field openly against the armed forces of England? Why seek to punish him over again for an offence for which, practically speaking, the clemency of the Crown had been extended through the late Conservative Government? Even they, when they thought it necessary to take notice of his conduct, did not go to work in this mean and underhand manner. They brought him to trial, and, finding his words were not such as rendered him justly amenable to the law, they dropped the proceedings against him. The present Government might, perhaps, have feared that they would not obtain his conviction; but they had the Coercion Act almost ready to their hand, and Mr. Davitt could hardly have overturned Ireland during the interval required for passing that statute. Mr. Davitt's acts had been done openly, in the light of day; his speeches made on public platforms, in the presence of Government reporters, would have been an honour for their eloquence and purity of sentiment to any man; and he now called upon the Government for the defence of their action—Mr. Davitt's conduct needed none. The hon. Member concluded by moving his Amendment.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House considers the re-arrest of Mr. Michael Davitt was not warranted by his conduct during the interval which has elapsed since his release on ticket-of-leave, and is further of opinion that the length of the term, and the nature of the penal servitude previously suffered by Mr. Davitt, warrant his liberation,"—(Mr. Parnell,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, the hon. Member for the City of Cork had called upon the Government for a defence of their conduct. He was perfectly entitled to do so; and, considering his relations with Mr. Davitt and his proceedings, the Government had no right to complain of the course he had taken and the manner in which he had brought 519 this case before the House. He would endeavour, as far as he could, to avoid any harshness of expression; but, at the same time, it was his duty to place before the House and the country the reasons which had governed the Administration in the course they had pursued in that matter. Although he accepted his own full share of responsibility, it was not to be supposed that any step had been taken on that subject, except upon the united opinion of the responsible Advisers of the Crown. Following the example of the hon. Member for the City of Cork, he must revert to the history of Michael Davitt's original conviction; and, first, he must call attention to the character of the offence for which he had been indicted. The charges against him were conspiring to move foreigners and strangers to invade Ire-laud, by inducing them to become members of a society called the Fenian Brotherhood, having for its object the overthrow of Her Majesty's power in Ireland; and, further, with attending meetings of the Fenian Brotherhood and procuring arms, and other overt acts. That offence was proved, and that Michael Davitt was guilty of it, nobody, he thought, denied. He did not think that Davitt himself—and there was no reason to believe he was an untruthful person —would deny it. The hon. Member for the City of Cork had adverted to the difference between the sentence passed on Michael Davitt and that passed on the man named Wilson, who was indicted with him; and he had suggested —though the suggestion was entirely unfounded—that the difference was made on the ground that Wilson was an Englishman. [Mr. PARNELL said, that was not the meaning of his remarks.] As the hon. Member repudiated that, he would withdraw the observation. The hon. Member had stated that Davitt was sentenced on the evidence of an informer. That was not so. The reason why a severer sentence was passed on Michael Davitt was the evidence of a man who was called in his defence, named Forester, who, on cross-examination, gave evidence about a certain letter in Davitt's handwriting, as to which the Lord Chief Justice, in passing sentence, said it showed that there had been a villainous and dark design, to be viewed with the utmost horror, against the life of some man; and he condemned Davitt 520 to 15 years' penal servitude. [Cries of "Head ! "] The right hon. and learned Gentleman then read the letter referred to, and wont on to say that Forester admitted that it was in Davitt's handwriting; that it came from Davitt; but he said that Davitt had sent it to him "as a police trap." [Mr. HEALY asked who Forester was?] He was a Fenian. The Jury and the Lord Chief Justice formed their opinion as to that letter; and it was upon that letter that Lord Chief Justice Cockburn made the observation—in which he entirely concurred, and in which he believed 99 out of every 100 persons in this country would concur —that there had been a dark and villainous design against the life of some man, who had been referred to as a traitor and a rotten sheep. That was the reason why a severer sentence was passed on Michael Davitt. It was one of the miserable consequences of those secret societies that they taught men, otherwise honourable, to look upon dark designs of assassination as justifiable. Davitt was released on a ticket-of-leave on the 18th of December, 1877, having been convicted in July, 1870. The hon. Member for the City of Cork had given his view as to why the late Government released Davitt, and appeared to know more about the matter than he (Sir William Harcourt) did. He was unable to state to the House the grounds on which they were induced to take that course, and he regretted there was no responsible Member of the Opposition present to give an account of their conduct in the matter. In all the discussions, too, in relation to the conduct of the present Chief Secretary for Ireland, the Government had neither had the benefit of the criticisms nor the support of the Members of the Opposition. They had been free of their charges against the conduct of the present Irish Executive; but there was no one present to state the reasons for the course the late Government pursued in this business.
§ SIR. WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, no doubt; it was read at the trial. What the reasons of the Conservative Government were for taking the course they did in releasing Davitt he was unable to state. The hon. Member for City of Cork, however, hinted that there 521 were some reasons other than those given to the House; but, if there were such, he (Sir William Harcourt) knew nothing of them. He wished the House to observe that there were several conditions attached to the licence on which Davitt was released, the first of these being that it was to be forfeited if any indictable offence was committed, without any action on the part of the Executive Government. The second condition was that it should continue, unless it should please Her Majesty to alter or revoke it; and, thirdly, it was stated that the licence was given subject to the conditions endorsed upon the same, upon breach of any of which it should be liable to be revoked, whether such breach were followed by conviction or not. It would be seen, therefore, that the licence was expressly framed to exclude conviction on criminal pressure. The hon. Member said it was an unprecedented proceeding to revoke a licence without the commission of some offence for which the prisoner had been proceeded against. But that was not so. There were numerous precedents for the revocation of licences without legal proceedings, where the person on ticket-of-leave misconducted himself. A man released on ticket-of-leave was, in fact, a probationer out on good behaviour, and the observance of law and order was more strictly impressed upon him than any other point. Well, the late Government, also for reasons that he was unacquainted with—and there was no Member of the Opposition present to explain the fact—waived in Davitt's case the ordinary condition that he should from time to time report himself to the police. But it appeared to him that the indulgence granted only made the obligation stronger upon Davitt to observe that conduct which was incumbent on a man out of prison upon the grace and favour of the Grown. He might liken Davitt to a prisoner of war, who, by reason of his having been liberated on parole, was still more bound than he would otherwise have been not to make war upon the enemy. Davitt, as the hon. Member for the City of Cork had stated, went, on his release, to America, and returned in 1878; and he thought the hon. Member raised a very fair issue when he asked, "What was the conduct of Mr. Davitt when he returned?" The hon. Member said Davitt was the 522 author of the Land League, and no doubt considered he was, by saying that, paying him a high complement; but that was not the only light in which Davitt presented himself when he returned to England. Being at large under the special grace of the Crown, Michael Davitt returned to England to carry on agitation as an avowed Fenian. [Mr. PARNELL dissented.] The hon. Member shook his head; but he did not suppose for a moment that this statement was made without authority. In June, 1879, in founding a branch of the Land League, Davitt declared the continuance of the land system to be a criminal disregard of the social well-being of Ireland. He did not object to that. Davitt urged them to organize, and he said—What have organizations done for Ireland? They say that the organization to which I have the honour to belong—the Fenian Organization —has disestablished the Irish Church.They knew what that meant; it was the old Clerkenwell story.Well," Davitt went on, "the organization of the tenant farmers will disestablish the landlords in half the time.[Irish cheers.] That was exactly what he supposed. Here was a Fenian convict coming over from America, founding the Land League, avowedly modelled upon the Fenian Organization, and saying that the methods by which the Irish Church was disestablished were to be followed in this case. He had said in that House before, and he had proof enough of it, that there were intimate relations between Fenianism and the Land League; and if he wanted anything more it would be the fact that the avowed author and originator of the Land League was the Fenian convict, and that he spoke in his earliest speches of it in that relation to the Fenian conspiracy. [" No ! "] Well, people would judge. To show the tone of this meeting he would refer to the speech of another gentleman who spoke and moved a resolution. This gentleman, in his speech, asked this question—Why wonder, when scenes like those are of daily occurrence, you should sometimes hear the report of a revolver in the night air?This was the early tone of the Land League. The speech to which he was referring was made by Mr. Brennan, who was, happily, now in Kilmainham, and there was, therefore, less heard of the 523 report of the revolver in the night air. [Cries of "Oh, oh!" and "More!"] He did not think there was more heard of these reports; he thought they had ceased; but hon. Members opposite seemed to know more about it than he did. There was another speaker and mover of a resolution, who said—Let them continue to be as faithful as the 300 Spartans who fell at Thermopolis, as the three brave Romans who held the bridge, and as the three brave Irishmen who, with the words 'God save Ireland ' on their lips, met a glorious doom at Manchester.Those were the men who murdered a policeman. [Loud cries of "No ! "]
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Now, this was the earliest style in which the Land League Organization was introduced to the knowledge of the Irish people by a man who was under sentence as a Fenian convict for conspiring with the Fenian Brotherhood to overthrow Her Majesty's power in Ireland. Well, then, the hon. Member for the City of Cork had referred to the prosecution instituted by the late Government against Mr. Davitt. It was a singular fact that as soon as Mr. Davitt returned to Ireland the late Government considered his language as seditious, and instituted a prosecution. He regretted the absence of the Members of the late Government from their places during this discussion, and especially those who took part in the Executive Government of Ireland; but he was happy to see one noble Lord on the Front Opposition Bench who was connected with the late Government, and he (Sir William Harcourt) would be glad if the noble Lord would explain to the House why the late Government instituted a prosecution against Mr. Davitt, and why they subsequently abandoned it.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
But the noble Lord exercised a powerful influence over the Government which governed Ireland at that time. Well, there was no doubt that the late Government instituted a prosecution and 524 abandoned it; but his opinion was that that was not the proper course to adopt.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, the House had given the hon. Member for the City of Cork a patient hearing, and he thought hon. Members opposite might be patient and allow him to state his views. In his opinion it was an absurdity, looking at the terms of Davitt's ticket-of-leave, to proceed against him in that manner. If the Government were of opinion that the man had violated the law so that he ought to be proceeded against, it was his opinion that the proper course to adopt was to revoke his ticket-of-leave. It was not for him to defend the conduct of the late Government at all in instituting the prosecution and then abandoning it. They had been told that there was a want of firmness with the present Executive of Ireland; but he thought that the conduct of the late Government with regard to Mr. Davitt did not show that they adopted a firm course. In his opinion, it rather encouraged such proceedings instead of putting a stop to them. Whether Mr. Davitt, on finding that the late Government had dropped the prosecution against him, was encouraged to go on and become bolder in his language, he did not know; but certainly, with the immunity he then enjoyed, the character of his proceedings increased in their audacity. The hon. Member for the City of Cork had alluded to the Land League having been imported by Mr. Davitt from America. [" No ! "] Well, Mr. Davitt came back from America with the Land League in his pocket. He constantly alluded to America and its bearing upon the Land League; but nobody could properly understand this question who did not bear in mind the relations in America and action in Ireland, both of the Land League and Fenianism. The hon. Member for the City of Cork did not appear to agree with him; but he would say that the Land League was to a very great degree an exotic which had been imported and brought by Davitt from America. ["No, no!"] Well, if it was an indigenous plant, at least the roots derived their nourishment from America.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Not entirely. What? should he say 19s. in the pound? He had looked at the subscription list with interest every week, and he had found that what was called the "subscription subsidy" was mainly an American subsidy, and he would undertake to say also that it was, to a very large extent, Fenian.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, he had often tried, and he would make another attempt that day, to see if he could get a disavowal or disclaimer of Fenianism from hon. Gentlemen opposite. It would be a very important disclaimer, and he was also disposed to think that it would be a very inconvenient one. It might do what the hon. Member's Motion was doing—it might stop the supplies; and he believed that was one reason why he had not been able to obtain that disclaimer of connection with American Fenianism which he had always been so extremely anxious to get. Well, there was an old and very true proverb, that" the man who pays the piper ought to choose the tune." The hon. Members opposite knew who paid the piper, and the Government knew very well whore the tune was organized. The piper was on the other side of the Atlantic, and the tune came from there as well. The piper was getting a little tired of his work, and he hoped the tune was going out of fashion in America. He wished to call attention also to what the hon. Member for the City of Cork had said, though he did not wish it to be understood that Davitt was arrested because he called his right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant "Outrage Forster." If all the people who called his right hon. Friend names in Ireland were put in prison the gaols would be full. [A VOICE: So they are.]
§ MR. PARNELL
I said that was the immediate cause of Mr. Davitt's imprisonment; and I may also say that all the people who have called the right hon. Gentleman that name are in prison.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, that if that were so it might be doubted whether the hon. Member for the City of Cork would be at large.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, he had felt it to be his duty to revoke Davitt's ticket-of-leave, and that was done without reference to his language about "Outrage Forster." ["Oh!"] Very little he said, or that his right hon. Friend said, would meet with credence from hon. Gentlemen opposite. [" Hear, hear!"] He observed that the hon. Member for Cavan, with his usual courtesy, cheered that. He hoped he was not speaking in a tone that was offensive. Now, the hon. Member for the City of Cork had read a number of passages from Davitt's speeches, which he (Mr. Parnell) said had had an admirable tendency, and were of the most peaceful character. Of course, it depended very much upon how they collected these passages, and whether or not they had the context in which they stood. Davitt, like a great many other members of the Land League and Fenian Organization, had two voices. They professed, on the one hand, to be the most innocent and quiet people in the world, and to have no desire to commit any acts of violence at all, and they preached most excellent sermons. They also had a tone of another description. In one of Davitt's speeches, reported in The Nation on the 22nd of January, 1881, which was probably delivered on the 16th of that month at a meeting at Kilbride, near Mallow, he is reported to have said—If your patience becomes exhausted by Government brutality, and every right, privilege, and hope which is your God-given inheritance, be trampled upon by a vindictive Power, the world will hold England and not you responsible if the wolf-dog of Irish vengeance bounds over the Atlantic at the very heart of that Power from which it is now held back by the influence of the Land League.[Irish cheers.] That was the language cheered by hon. Members opposite, and that was the language which was held by the Fenian convict under sentence for conspiring to move foreigners and strangers to invade Ireland. He should like to know what that language meant if it did not mean that if these men did not succeed—[Loud cries of "No ! " from the Irish Members]—he believed every man of common sense would interpret them as he did—[Cries of "No!"]— and he would appeal to their judgment whether this language did not mean that if these men did not get their own way and if their patience became exhausted, then the wolf-dog of Irish vengeance 527 was to bound across the Atlantic? He would like to know whether there was any Government in the world who would tolerate such language from the mouth of a Fenian convict?
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Fenianism had been condoned! It might have been condoned by the hon. Gentleman who made the observation. Fenianism had not been, and was not, condoned by the people of the United Kingdom. He took issue upon that question, and declared that Fenianism was not condoned. What was the condition of Ireland in January when that speech was made? It was a condition of the greatest excitement; it was a condition horrible to remember. This was also the month in which his (Mr. Davitt's) friend, Mr. Brennan, said that he rejoiced to say that revolvers were heard in the midnight air. [Derisive Laughter.]
SIR WILLIAM HAROOURT
said, this was jeered and ridiculed by hon. Gentlemen opposite. It might have been, spoken a year before; but everybody in England knew what the condition of Ireland was at the time Davitt was threatening—he would not say the English Government, but civilized society—by the wolf-dog that was to bound across the Atlantic. He would now refer to the speech which the hon. Member for the City of Cork said he thought was the immediate cause of Davitt's arrest, and which, the hon. Member said was characterized by such admirable moderation. There was a passage in the speech which the hon. Member had not read, and which ran thus—Do you believe for a single moment that if this contest lay in. another field than that of peaceful agitation, or if the weapons in our hands were other than those of ideas, we would strike our colours at the first warning of danger, and fly from the enemy? Would we not rather swear face to face with our enemies that every sod beneath our feet should be a soldier's sepulchre rather than victory should be snatched from us?Throughout the whole of this language —whether it be the language of the Fenian conspiracy or of the Land League organization—there was always this menace about ulterior force, a threat to resort to this ulterior force 528 that ran through the whole of those speeches. This sort of language proceeded until the Government thought it was high time that it should be put a stop to, and they had put a stop to it. They had not heard such talk in any part of Ireland as that of the wolf-dog crossing the Atlantic or about drilling since the passing of the Coercion Act and the arrest of Davitt. People in Ireland were now, at all events, more prudent. There was, no doubt, plenty of such talk in the United States. The early tone of the Land League in its lighter and more convivial moments was still to be found. He had seen the account of a dinner which was given to the American and English deputation to the Land League. The dinner took place last month, and in The Dublin Irishman of July 16th he saw an account of it. [An hon. MEMBER: Was Mr. Davitt there?] No; Mr. Davitt was not there; but Mr. Thomas Sexton was there.
§ MR. SPEAKER
I must, in the name of good order, protest against these interruptions, and I shall be bound to notice them if they are continued.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT, continuing, said, Mr. Thomas Sexton, who, he believed, was the presiding genius of the Land League, took the chair on that occasion, and Mr. Redpath, who seemed to be the guest, occupied a seat on the right of the chairman. He presumed that the gentlemen present were the "light and leading" of the Land League. On the occasion of this genial gathering Mr. Redpath, who had been on several friendly missions to the Land League from America, made a speech, in which he said, after recalling what had been done for the League in America, that no American should be imprisoned in Ireland except on positive proof that he had violated the Treaty of Peace between England and America. This gentleman admitted there was some legal doubt in the case of Mr. Boyton; and then went on to say that he knew from his personal knowledge that if the American Government failed to do its duty in protecting its citizens in Ireland, and if he were run into gaol without having violated the Treaty of Peace between the United States and England, no English nobleman would ever cross the Mississippi to hunt deer or buffaloes on the American plains, as was now the fashion, without the risk 529 of being shot by an Irish bullet. This observation was received by those present with loud cheers. He (Sir William Harcourt) was in close relation with the United States, and he had received many hospitable invitations to cross the Atlantic; but, after these intimations, he thought, on the whole, he was safer here than he should be in America. This account was also published in The Freeman's Journal. He was happy to think that, at all events, there was one gentleman who disapproved of the brutality and atrocity of such language as this, and that it was the editor of a paper. This gentleman evidently thought that the Irish Land League and their guests went a little too far in giving this description, for in his paper it was stated that it was not Englishmen's lives they wanted, but they wanted to strike England through her pocket; and when England saw she was losing money by holding Ireland she would give Ireland up. It was also stated by Mr. O'Donovan Rossa that if Mr. Red-path had said that for every Redpath put in prison the Irish in America and Australia would sink or blow up an English ship that would be right. It was thus evident that Mr. O'Donovan Rossa was a milder man than Mr. Red-path. Was language of the kind he had described to be permitted to go on? Were the Government to permit language of this sort, whether indigenous or whether imported from America, to be circulated, and cheered, and approved? It was his firm conviction that Davitt founded the Land League and conducted it in such a manner that it was only the carrying on of Fenianism in another form as an attack upon the Union of the Empire, and as another method of striking at the English Government. He avowed from the first his Fenianism, and recommended that the Land League Organization should be based upon the model of Fenianism.
§ Several IRISH MEMBERS: No; Home Rule.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Oh, Home Rule. This he might say, at all events, if he might borrow the expression of the late noble Earl (the Earl of Beaconsfield), that in the minds and in the actions of men like Davitt the Land League was, and was intended to be, veiled Fenianism. The speeches 530 with regard to peaceful agitation were always accompanied by this alternative threat of an armed force being employed against the Government of the country and against the welfare of Ireland. He had found no speech of Mr. Davitt's which had come under his notice which did not contain as much on one side as the other. Considering the condition of Ireland in January last, considering the character of this Land League, and this conduct on the part of Mr. Davitt, was it possible that the English Government should leave him at large? He flaunted Fenianism in the face of the Government; and had they allowed him to go at large it would have been said that they were afraid of Davitt. [Mr. PARNELL: Hear, hear!] And afraid of his braggart talk. [A VOICE: You are the braggart.] He was entitled to use that phrase when a man talked about "the wolf-dog leaping across the Atlantic." What was that but braggart talk? Davitt knew perfectly well that the Government of the United States, and the people of the United States, would take care that no "wolf-dog" of that kind came across the Atlantic; and when Mr. Redpath and other gentlemen went back to America they would find a very different tone of feeling on the subject of wolf-dogs and assassination-talk. Whatever might be the feeling of the people of the United Kingdom, there was just as great a detestation and abhorrence in every part of the United States against this atrocious language of these assassin conspirators. The English Government that would allow the Irish people to be influenced by such language and such proceedings as these would be entirely unworthy of their trust, and would entirely betray the interests of that society which they were bound to maintain; and, therefore, using that right which they unquestionably possessed in law, and accepting that responsibility which they could not decline, they ordered the arrest of Mr. Davitt; and they were prepared to abide by the decision of the House and of the country upon the course which they had taken. In his opinion, the effect of the arrest of Mr. Davitt and the passing of the Coercion Act had been to produce a far more tranquil condition of things in Ireland than prevailed last winter. [Mr. PAR-NELL dissented.] The hon. Member for the City of Cork shook his head—he 531 could not expect the hon. Member to agree with him. With reference to the treatment of Davitt, he did not think, given imprisonment, it would be said that Davitt had any cause to complain of the manner in which he had been treated in prison. [Mr. PAKNELL: For penal servitude.] For penal servitude. He had taken great care that it should be so. All the indulgence possible had been extended to a person in his condition. He was aware that Davitt's health was delicate, and he was treated as an invalid. His own physician could visit him, and his friends could visit him. There was one hon. Gentleman—the hon. and learned Member for Meath (Mr. A. M. Sullivan)—whose absence they all deplored, who, if present, could testify that the treatment of Davitt was not harsh. He knew how hardly it pressed upon a man of an intelligent mind to be deprived of his liberty, and he had provided that he should not have to perform labour for which he was unsuited, and that he should have reasonable occupation. He was also allowed to select his own books, and to have writing materials. As to his health, and the statement of the hon. Member for the City of Cork about his dying in prison, he was informed he was much more likely to live in prison—at all events, his health had very greatly improved. He hoped the House would be of opinion that the Government were justified in the course they had taken. It was a course rendered just and necessary under the circumstances, and that without it peace and order was seriously imperilled in Ireland. It was necessary to show that the law could be vindicated against such proceedings and such language as Davitt "was employing to inflame and exasperate the minds of the Irish people, and to which he did very seriously attribute the outrages which took place last winter.
§ Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,
§ MR. HEALY
said, he thought that it was right the Home Secretary should deal with Irish Business, as it afforded him an opportunity of indulging in his usual slander. He had treated the House to a series of quotations from the speeches of Mr. Davitt and of the late Earl of 532 Beaconsfield. If the extracts made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman from the speeches of the Earl of Beaconsfield were not more accurate than those which he had ascribed to Mr. Davitt, very little reliance could be placed in them. One novel by Mr. Disraeli the right hon. and learned Gentleman had, however, undoubtedly read. He referred to Lothair, in which what was supposed to be the incarnation of all secret societies throughout the world was designated by the appellation of "Mary Ann." The right hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to be haunted by the shadow of "Mary Ann," for they never heard anything from him in the House but stories of treasons, stratagems, and spoils. Among tine quotations which they had from the right hon. and learned Gentleman were some which referred to occurrences with which Davitt had had nothing to do. They had been told, for instance, of a dinner which took place months after Davitt's arrest, at which, according to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, various members of the Land League were present. But the men of "light and leading" who were at that dinner were members of the National Confederation of Great Britain, and not leaders of the Land League at all, and yet Mr. Davitt was to be held responsible in some mysterious way for the utterances of the gentlemen present. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had referred to a speech made by Davitt in June, 1879. That speech, in the opinion of the Home Secretary, was a direct attack on the late Government, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman said that the late Government ought to have taken notice of Davitt's utterances, and ought not to have abandoned that prosecution which was set on foot. But he might remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it was the present Government who abandoned that prosecution, for the process of law against Davitt remained over in the Courts owing to some technical details during the General Election which resulted in the defeat of the late Government, and consequently the present Government could have proceeded with the prosecution if they had been desirous of doing so. The fact was, therefore, that the present Attorney General for Ireland and his Colleagues were responsible for the abandonment of the 533 prosecution of Mr. Davitt and his comrades. In the speech delivered in June, 1879, Mr. Davitt, according to the right and learned hon. Gentleman, made use of this phrase—"He had the honour of being a member of the Fenian Organization." These words, however, were an instance of faulty reporting, the reporter having, in turning the speech into the third person, made a mistake in the tense. The phrase ought to have appeared in this form— "He had had the honour of being a member of the Fenian Organization." The right hon. and learned Gentleman appeared to be of opinion that this Fenian Organization was the model on which the Land League had been formed. But he would point out that one was conducted by means of open meetings, and the other by secret conclaves. He did not see how the two things could be considered to be at all alike. Another speech quoted by the Home Secretary was that delivered by Mr. Davitt at Mallow, in which he made use of the expression "wolf-dog." The early portion of that speech was, in his opinion, such as might be found in the mouth of any lover of liberty. The first proposition contained in it was that if all the rights and privileges to which the people were entitled were trampled under foot, certain consequences would follow. Was that a proposition to which Englishmen would say nay? In the case of Greece, or Montenegro, or in that of the Transvaal, would an appeal to arms in the cause of liberty be thought so very criminal by the Government? The House ought to bear in mind the words of Lord John Russell to the effect that it was the right of every nation to choose its own Government, and that if that right were denied to a nation it would be justified in resorting to rebellion. If the rights of these people were denied, as Mr. Davitt was reported to have said, they were, in his opinion, fully entitled to vindicate their rights by any course open to them, and he (Mr. Healy) would not have the slightest hesitation in repeating the same remark in any part of Ireland. The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked whether, considering the language of Mr. Davitt in January last, Her Majesty's Government could allow this state of things to go on?
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, his impression was that the first speech 534 of Mr. Davitt which he quoted was delivered in 1880, and not in 1879.
§ MR. HEALY
said, he could assist the right hon. and learned Gentleman on that point. As a matter of fact, Mr. Michael Davitt was in America at the time when the right hon. and learned Gentleman stated that he made the speech in question, and he was surprised that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should seek to alter the dates on which the speeches to which he referred, and on which he based his case, were delivered in order to suit his own purposes.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
said, he had also quoted from the speech which Mr. Davitt delivered at Borris.
§ MR. HEALY
said, if the right hon. and learned Gentleman relied on the speech at Borris he was perfectly ready to defend that speech, for it simply amounted to an appeal to the Irish people, on the part of Mr. Davitt, not to fly in the face of danger while they were engaged in a peaceable movement simply because threats of coercion were held over their heads. This, he thought, was a noble appeal, and very manfully the people of Ireland had responded to it. Nothing Mr. Davitt had said was half as strong as that which was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Bright) at Limerick, on July 14, 1866, in the height of the Fenian movement—namely, that he was willing to admit that any nation, believing it to be its interest, had a right both to ask for and to strive for national independence, it was said verba volit; but this was not the case in regard to Mr. Davitt, or any other of the supporters of the Land League. He now came to a sentence in the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Home Secretary on which, in his view, the whole question hinged. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said, in effect—"Considering the state of Ireland in January last, could we have allowed Mr. Davitt to remain at large?" It was most important, in considering this, to have regard to what, in fact, was the condition of Ireland in January last; and on this point he would refer the House to the fact that, while the number of outrages, or so-called outrages, went up in an ascending scale in the months of October, November, and December last, the month of January—which, was 535 the one in which. Mr. Davitt returned to Ireland from America—showed a lower number than any one of the three preceding months, the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant himself admitting that the diminution was mainly due to the efforts which had been made by the leaders of the Land League No one who had read the speeches of Mr. Davitt, or who was familiar with the communications which he had written on behalf of the League, could say that he had ever done anything which had not a beneficial tendency. Was it for these that Mr. Davitt had been sent back to Portland, or was it on account of his early speeches, which had been unearthed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman? If this latter was the case, he should like to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman how he would like to have those speeches which he had delivered in 1874 after the fall of the Liberal Ministry, and with which he fiercely attacked the present Premier, thrown into his face to-day? He could not admire the tone in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman had referred, in support of his argument against the Motion of the hon. Member for the City of Cork, to the early speeches and the former life of Mr. Davitt; nor could he admit that there was any real force in what he had said as to the amount received by the Central Committee of the Land League from America as compared with that which was put down as having been paid into the central fund by the Irish branches. The right hon. and learned Gentleman seemed to have forgotten, or probably he never knew, that while the whole amount received from America was paid into the central fund, by far the larger portion of the amount collected in Ireland was distributed by local organizations, only a very small portion going to the general funds of the League. This disposed of the metaphorical statement of the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the Land League was an exotic imported from America which did not greatly flourish in Irish soil. So far from Ireland being behindhand in its subscriptions to the League, he might remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that, in the course of the recent State trials in which his hon. Friend the Member for the City of Cork was intimately concerned, the members 536 of the League resident in Ireland contributed no less than £25,000, and that, speaking generally, nearly half of the funds of the League were found in Ireland. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had invited the Irish Representatives to disavow all connection with Fenianism; but they declined to allow themselves to be dragged one way or the other by the right hon. and learned Gentleman. [Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT: Hear, hear!] The present Chief of the Home Office was fond of quotations; and he would give him one. It was from Shakespeare; and it was—"Can'st hon play upon this pipe?" The right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about paying the piper and calling for the tune; but he could not play upon this pipe. The Home Secretary did not know the stops or the pauses of the Irish Members, and they declined to answer to his tune or to dance to his music. It was all very well for Her Majesty's Government to ask whether certain speeches would be delivered in Ireland which they did not hesitate to make in this country; but it must not be forgotten that the reports of speeches on the strength of which men were put in prison in Ireland were the work of policemen out of uniform. Having been connected with the Press, he had learned shorthand, and could report a speech; and he had seen those shorthand policemen struggling with their notes, and falling into the most helpless confusion over them. But how could they expect policemen to become proficient in shorthand, which required long and patient application, when they had to give so much time to bayonet exercise and buckshot firing? The members of the Land League would decline to place themselves at the mercy of these ingenious stenographers of the meeting. As far as the references to the former life of Davitt were concerned, he did not think the House would attach much, if any, importance to the question of the letter which was sworn to as being in the handwriting of Davitt by a man named Forester—whoever he might be. The facts on the face of them discredited Forester's story, and the surrounding circumstances pointed to the conclusion that he was an informer of the Corydon type—this last-named person being one whom he never saw until his appearance in the witness-box to swear away his 537 liberty. Taking a general review of all the circumstances, he must support the Motion of his hon. Friend in that it had for its object the doing of some sort of justice to a man who, having committed no crime, was arrested for one and receiving punishment for the commission of another entirely different. It was an unprecedented thing to arrest a man on one charge, and, after releasing him, to re-arrest him for the original offence which he had expiated. The so-called precedents were the cases of pick-pockets, murderers, and robbers—persons who, having been in gaol for crimes against social order, had, after having been set at liberty, relapsed into their old courses, and been re-apprehended and made to serve out their sentences. They thoroughly understood in Ireland what Michael Davitt had been arrested for. But, even supposing that the Government considered it necessary, for the preservation of the public peace, to arrest Michael Davitt, what defence had the right hon. and learned Gentleman made of his conduct? Why had they not arrested him under the Coercion Act? Were the walls not as thick, the bars not as strong, at Kilmainham as at Portland? The Government preferred to exercise malignity and spite, and no wonder they wore hated in Ireland. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had given the flimsy excuse that it was for two particular speeches that Michael Davitt was arrested. Well, he (Mr. Healy) would challenge any Englishman to read those speeches through, and then go down to an English constituency— North Durham, where there was a strong Irish element, for instance—and put before the people the words of this prisoner, and ask the question—"For uttering these, does a man deserve seven years' penal servitude?" When Irish electors, for the future, were asked to support the Liberal Government, they would answer—"Remember Davitt?" It would be found that, though Davitt was in prison, his name had a power and a potency which the Government would have bitter reason to regret.
§ MR. JUSTIN M'CARTHY
said, that the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department had treated them to a Nisi Prius speech which was unworthy of the House and of the dignity of the position occupied by a Minister of the Crown. 538 It was the mode which would be adopted by a clever lawyer of putting together a constructive case against a man whose conviction he desired to obtain. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had made Michael Davitt responsible, not only for his own sayings and doings, but for the sayings and doings of other persons, such as Mr. James Redpath, who was an Englishman, and not an Irishman nor an American. If Mr. Davitt was responsible for the doings of Mr. Redpath by reason of their both being members of the same Association, there were persons nearer to the right hon. and learned Gentleman who were equally responsible—namely, the members of the Cobden Club, for Mr. Redpath was a member of their body. The Chief Secretary for Ireland himself was a member; but Mr. Redpath was the more distinguished being an honorary member, whereas the right hon. Gentleman was only an ordinary member. As the Secretary of State for the Home Department had dragged in the case of the attack on the prison van at Manchester, he would direct attention to a controversy in an evening paper upon the English Criminal Law, and to the communication of a writer who cited this case as one of the strongest to show that men had been hanged in this country for causing death when they had no intention to kill. The writer said it was probable the men had no intention whatever of killing the policemen, and had quite a different object in view; and the Irish Members entertained the belief. As to the letters attributed to Davitt, the evidence did not prove they were in his handwriting; but even if they were, it was not made clear that they might not have been extracts copied from a published book. Suppose one of the documents had been a transcript from a work of the late Lord Beaconsfield, in which the writer justified and glorified tyrannicide, would the copying of such a passage have justified the arrest of Mr. Davitt? No witness was clear as to the meaning of the letters; that was a matter of conjecture; it was uncertain on the evidence whether they were in Davitt's handwriting; and yet he had received a heavier punishment on account of them than for the offence with which he had been formally charged The Secretary of State for the Home De- 539 partment had a difficulty in attempting to make out that the passages quoted were necessarily a defence of rebellion. Was it not true that those who drove a people to despair were more responsible than those who organized a rebellion? When the Secretary of State for the Home Department quoted from speeches of Mr. Davitt he loft out of sight those utterances of this gentleman to which the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell) and the hon. Member for Wexford (Mr. Healy) had referred—those speeches in which Mr. Davitt had denounced in the strongest language every kind of outrage and violence. He had a great admiration for Michael Davitt, and he had never been more struck by the nobleness of his character than on Mr. Davitt's return from America, when almost the first words he spoke were to warn the people that the adoption of any kind of outrage and violence would alienate from them the sympathies of their best friends across the Atlantic. Then he came to know Mr. Davitt personally; he admired him as he admired few men with whom he had been brought in contact, for he combined a remarkable power of practical organization, down to the mastery of the meanest details, with a certain antique grandeur of patriotic purpose. Mr. Davitt did all in his power to discourage any attempt at violence, to denounce any attempt at outrage. Mr. Davitt had not much faith in Parliamentary agitation, in the sense of justice of the English people; he was under the impression that the struggles of a minority in Parliament involved something like degradation to a great national cause; and he determined to keep aloof from the controversies carried on in the House of Commons. And could the Irish Members help sometimes sympathizing with that feeling, and entertaining a little of the same doubt? Could they help it when, with their knowledge of Davitt, their belief that there was something in him every earnest man would admire, they heard with astonishment and horror the cry of exultation which broke out from the Liberal Benches when the Secretary of State for the Home Department announced that Davitt had been arrested? That cheer was as ignoble and ferocious as the shriek of the Roman soldiers for the blood of their captive Zenobia. He 540 was bound to say for Conservative Members that they had the decency to receive the announcement with something like silence. He said at the moment that his faith in the genuineness of English Radicalism in the present Parliament was gone. Bearing in mind the attitude the Government had assumed, lie made no appeal for mercy on behalf of Davitt, who would himself scorn an appeal of such a kind. He would, however, assure the House that the Government had made a great blunder in arresting Mr. Davitt the second time, for if over there was a man qualified to keep peace and good order in Ireland, and to stand between his country and violent agitation, it was Michael Davitt. The Secretary of State for the Home Department, with something like exultation, declared that the Government had lately succeeded in silencing violent speakers in Ireland; but did he really think that was a success? To silence those who spoke was to give an impetus to secret organization and the work carried on by means of it. Mr. Davitt was a man more likely and more qualified to keep peace and order in Ireland amid the warmest agitation than a hundred Ministers with sentiments like those of the right hon. and learned Gentleman.
§ MR. BARRY
said, that, as one of the oldest friends of Michael Davitt, he claimed to say a few words in this debate. He had the honour of his friendship for many years before his first conviction, and he knew how unjust and unfair were many of the charges which had been brought against him. The case raised by the hon. Member for the City of Cork had been greatly aggravated by the Home Secretary's statement, which showed how flimsy was the evidence upon which a conviction was secured against Davitt in 1870. He told them that the Judge, in summing up, relied chiefly on a letter which was found on a man named Forester, and which was submitted at the trial; but he had not the candour and fairness to state that this letter was found upon Forester in Liverpool many months before the trial torn into 100 fragments, and that experts had to be brought to give evidence, one of whom swore that the handwriting was like Davitt's, while the other swore it was not. As a matter of fact, the only evidence against Davitt to connect him with the Fenian Organi- 541 zation was that of a man named Corydon, whom the Government appeared to have since spirited away. After Mr. Davitt's release, long before it was known that he was likely to be arrested, he informed his confidential friends that he never saw Corydon in his life till he saw him at the Old Bailey. When, in addition to this, the antecedents of the witnesses were taken into account, he submitted that the evidence on which Davitt was convicted was tainted, and ought never to have been received in any Court of Justice. But if the original arrest of Davitt was not justified, his re-arrest was still less justified. The Home Secretary had said that Davitt promulgated the plan of the Land League Organization on the lines of the previous Fenian movement. Far from this being true, the open and Constitutional character of the Land League Organization was such that Davitt's plan was angrily denounced as a "new departure" by the Fenians in America. He therefore submitted that the statements of the Home Secretary were most unjust. The case of the Government, weak enough before, had been infinitely weakened by the admissions of the right hon. and learned Gentleman that day; and he could tell the right hon. and learned Gentleman that his application of the word "braggart" to an absent man like Mr. Davitt was a cowardly act, unworthy of anyone in his position. He remembered the evening when the announcement was made in the House of the arrest of Michael Davitt, and he should never forget the cowardly howl that then went up from the Liberal Benches. And he also noticed that the Conservative Gentlemen had the manliness, at least, to preserve silence. One would have thought that it was the announcement of a great victory, not of the re-arrest of a helpless man, and the sending him back to prison and to a dreary incarceration. The re-arrest of one humble Irishman had so worked upon the feelings of English Radicals that they could not forbear from raising that cowardly cheer. But he could tell them that Irishmen in America, at home, and in that House would never forget that cheer; and he hoped the time would come when the cry, "Remember Davitt, "would have as much effect in exciting their fears as the announcement of his re-arrest had bad in exciting their exultation.
§ MR. CALLAN
said, that early in the debate the Home Secretary had lectured him on good taste because he laughed when the right hon. and learned Gentleman made a ridiculous quotation about the Irish wolf-dog bounding across the Atlantic. But what was his offence against good taste, if he had committed any, compared with that of the right hon. Gentleman when he applied the words "atrocious" to Mr. Davitt, and called him a conspirator and braggart? He never interchanged a word, except once, with Mr. Davitt; but he esteemed him as one who had loved his country, "not wisely, but too well." He had, moreover, heard Archbishops, clergymen, and magistrates in Ireland speak in terms of the most unqualified appreciation of his fine personal character and the purity of his intentions. In his (Mr. Callan's) study he had two pictures—one a life-like sketch of Mr. Forster from Vanity Fair, and the other a cartoon entitled" The Dream of Davitt," from The Freeman's Journal. There was no allegation against Mr. Davitt except with regard to one speech since his release, but the Government had to go back to a letter found some 15 years ago, and bring it up against him. He always thought that Lord Beaconsfield was the Minister on whom the Home Secretary had modelled himself, except in the matter of courtesy. He was surprised the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not show a better acquaintance with his model. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that he agreed with Lord Beaconsfield when he described Fenianism as "veiled rebellion." Now, he thought Fenianism was open rebellion. It was Home Rule which Lord Beaconsfield had described as "veiled rebellion." As one who had never joined in the Land League agitation, he felt it incumbent on him to say that nothing would tend more to produce goodwill in Ireland, to conciliate the Irish people, and to recommend the Land Bill than the release of Michael Davitt. He, too, hoped that the day would come when, among English constituencies, while the fate of Parties was trembling in the balance, he would be able to revenge the savage shout raised on the Liberal Benches when Davitt's arrest was announced.
§ DR. COMMINS
said, he heartily approved the Resolution, because it put the Government upon its trial to justify 543 itself for one of the most extraordinary acts of the extraordinary crisis through which they had passed. The re-arrest of Mr. Davitt happened at a most critical juncture. The unfortunate Coercion Bill was then on the anvil. At that time the Press of this country laid every outrage at the door of the Land League. Unhappily, the outrages were only too many; but, in addition to the real outrages, fictitious ones were supplied every morning to gratify the taste of the country at the time. He did not say that the Government felt any gratification at those outrages, but they took advantage of them to forward the Coercion Bill. At that time the loudest voice in condemnation of those crimes was Mr. Davitt, and his was a voice that would be listened to by the people. His word would go further with those who allowed themselves to be precipitated into outrage by their feelings than all the declamation of the British Press. And yet it was at that moment that Mr. Davitt was re-arrested. He had waited to hear from the Government some explanation which would strip that proceeding of the character of a political act, and which would show that Davitt had done something which, in the eye of the law and common sense, would be considered an offence even of the most trivial character. But not one single offence had been produced as a justification of his re-arrest. His only breach of the conditions of his liberation was that from the time of his discharge in 1877 he had not reported himself; but it appeared from what had been said by the Home Secretary that that had been condoned by the late Government. Why, then, was Mr. Davitt re-arrested? The Homo Secretary was obliged to admit that the re-arrest was a political act, part of the programme of Coercion, and one of the things required to be done before introducing the unfortunate Coercion Bill. He would implore the Government—for it was never too late to mend—to retrace its steps, and wipe out as far as possible the recollection of this unfortunate political act. The right hon. and learned Gentleman's speech that day was to some extent an indictment of the Land League, and through the Land League he tried to strike Mr. Davitt as its founder. The Home Secretary had himself furnished an illustration of the charge which he brought against mem- 544 bers of the Land League, for he had spoken with two voices. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, adopting the manner of a dexterous advocate, used language which was hardly fair to Members on those Benches when he insinuated that they had sympathy with murder and outrage, because they did not get up and disavow them whenever the right hon. and learned Gentleman chose to make allusion to them. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had referred to the homely proverb of the piper and the dancers; but there was another homely proverb which he would commend to the reflection of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and that was the proverb of the spider and the fly. The right hon. and learned Gentleman would hardly find anyone on those Benches inclined to step into his parlour when he invited them. No doubt, the right hon. and learned Gentleman's argument was put very temperately and courteously, and he had not a single complaint to make against the manner of it. But, as he had said, the right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke with two voices, and he should be happy to have more of the gentle voice in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman had addressed them that day. He would only add that, having examined the three speeches upon which the right hon. and learned Gentleman founded his argument, he found that there was nothing in them which excited to a violation of the law. He therefore appealed to the Government to re-consider their decision even now, and, if possible, to procure a favourable reception for the Land Bill.
§ MR. MACFARLANE
said, it was his intention to support the Motion of the hon. Member for the City of Cork (Mr. Parnell). He understood the Home Secretary to say that the original offence of Davitt was the reason for his re-arrest. If so, the right hon. and learned Gentleman was less merciful than his Predecessor, who had allowed Davitt a ticket-of-leave, and had practically condoned the offence of which he had been guilty. He had no personal acquaintance with Davitt, but knew that his speeches were in favour of land reform and peaceable agitation. Perhaps those speeches went too far, and contained language that was not altogether defensible; but, whether that was the case or 545 not, the circumstances of the country formed an extenuation of his conduct and a reason for his release. And, besides, it was sufficiently clear that the Government, if they would but let bygones be bygones, would be performing an act not only of mercy, but of good policy also.
§ MR. BLAKE
said, that, while he joined in deprecating an ad misericordiam, appeal, he would entreat the Government to let bygones be bygones and to set Davitt free. They could easily arrest him again if he offended against the law. His release would be not only a gracious act on the part of the Government, but would gratify moderate men like himself, as well as more extreme politicians. He was not a member of the Land League, which, to a great extent, had been founded by Michael Davitt; and, therefore, he was not guilty of violating its secrets when he stated that there was no doubt that Davitt had been the most earnest denouncer of many of the outrages which had, unfortunately, taken place. If he had not been arrested he (Mr. Blake) believed that the Chief Secretary would have had a much easier task, and Kilmainham would not contain so many "suspects" within its gloomy walls. The Government certainly ought to try the experiment of liberating a man for whom his countrymen felt so much affection and confidence, and who had suffered so much in order to benefit, according to his own idea, his native land.
§ MR. O'DONNELL
ridiculed the notion that speeches delivered six months after Davitt's arrest could properly be described by the Home Secretary as concomitant circumstances, and thought it too late to rely on the unproved assertions of such men as Corydon with respect to Davitt's conduct in 1870. The speech of the Home Secretary avoided the point at issue, and tended to discredit English opinion against Davitt, whom the right hon. and learned Gentleman had denounced as a braggart. That the right hon. and learned Gentleman had misconceived the whole state of the case was shown by his assertion that Davitt had founded the Land League on the lines of the Fenian Brotherhood. The object of the Fenian Brotherhood was, by force of arms, by foreign alliances, and by taking advantage of crises in the history of England, to procure the com- 546 plete separation of Ireland from the Crown of Great Britain; whereas the object of the Land League, in its most extreme form, was to make every Irish, tenant proprietor of his holding. What, then, was the meaning of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's statement that the Land League was founded on the lines of the Fenian Brotherhood? If the right hon. and learned Gentleman meant that a large number of Fenians, just as a large number of Home Rulers and of Orangemen, were to be found in the ranks of the Land League, why, then, according as it suited his convenience, he might one day inform the House that the Land League was founded on the lines of the Fenian Brotherhood; on the second, that it was founded on the lines of the Home Rule organization; and, on the third day, on the lines of the Orange Association. There were plenty of Land Leaguers who were Fenians; and, no doubt, when that League had passed away, after completing its work, the Fenian Brotherhood would exist so long as the separation between England and Ireland was not effected. But when the right hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of the Land League and dynamite plots in one and the same breath, he could not suppose he was unaware of the gross misrepresentation contained in such a suggestion. It was true that a few ignorant and dangerous men were in favour of recourse to violent weapons, such as had been freely used in the Italian revolutions which the right hon. and learned Gentleman so much admired; but no one would be more indignant than the right hon. and learned Gentleman if an attempt were made to blacken the many on account of the crimes of the few. He protested, then, that whatever madness and mischief a few desperate men might be guilty of, all Irishmen and all Land Leaguers were not to be smirched by the same horrible charges. When they found a responsible English Minister indulging in such reckless and abominable insinuations, what better weapon could be put into the hands of those who used dynamite? The Home Secretary ought openly to admit that he had imprisoned Davitt in order to secure the success of the reforms proposed by the Government; but he ought not to employ against hundreds, and thousands, and millions of an honourable race any foul charge that suited the 547 policy of an embarrassed Administration.
§ MR. BYRNE
said, he knew little of Davitt, or of his connection with Fenianism; but could say, at least, that, in spite of frequent provocation from the Government, Davitt's counsels were often on the side of moderation. He must, therefore, protest against the Home Secretary stigmatizing Davitt as a braggart. He wished, also, to repudiate any connection with the American Irish World, which he had only seen once, and would express the hope that before the right hon. and learned Gentleman associated the Home Rulers with that organ he would make himself more assured of the accuracy of his statements. He was also of opinion that, in matters relating to Ireland, the Government should not be above taking advice from the Irish Members. He hoped that the Land Bill would receive a fair trial, and he would advise his constituents to take all the good they could out of it, and agitate afresh to make it more perfect.
§ MR. FINIGAN
said, he had the pleasure of knowing Michael Davitt, and had heard him speak very often on the Land Question; but never once had he heard from him an expression of principle that might not be used in that House or on the hustings in Mid Lothian. He regretted that the Home Secretary had been called upon by the duties of his Office to degrade those great legal and equitable talents which had characterized him for so long a time. He understood, from the right hon. and learned Gentleman's pleadings, that Davitt was sent back to prison, not because he had not complied with the conditions of his ticket-of-leave, but because he was thought to be the head and front of the Land League organization. As he saw the Prime Minister present, he trusted that right hon. Gentleman would make some statement which would take out the malice that had been put into this debate—no doubt unintentionally—by the speech of the Home Secretary.
§ After a pause,
§ Mr. T. P. O'CONNOR
remarked, that the Chief Secretary for Ireland had been in the House during the whole of this discussion, and that the Prime Minister had been in his place for some 548 time. They both maintained silence, although a direct appeal had just been made to the latter by his hon. Friend the Member for Ennis (Mr. Finigan). He interpreted this silence to mean that the two right hon. Gentlemen were rather anxious to leave to their Colleague the whole responsibility of the act of injustice which had been committed. The Home Secretary had stated that at the time of Davitt's arrest crime and outrages were increasing all over the country. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman had taken the trouble to consult the official Returns he would have found that in the months of February and March crime was diminishing.
§ SIR WILLIAM HARCOURT
Davitt was arrested on the 2nd of February. That was exactly what I said—that crime diminished after he was arrested.
§ MR. T. P. O'CONNOR
said, he would take serious crime. The fact was that there was not one murder in the month of January. There was one in February, one in March, two in April, and in May the ghastly total was three. Yet the contention of the Home Secretary was that at the moment when Davitt was arrested his continued freedom was a direct incentive of outrage. On the memorable night when 35 Home Rule Members were excluded from the House, he observed to a Member of the Liberal Party that the Government, in putting Davitt into prison, were destroying the best and strongest safeguard of tranquillity in Ireland. Out of the 200 or 300 speeches delivered by Davitt after his release, the Home Secretary had quoted three passages. What did they amount to? The first recommended organization, and alluded to the speaker's past connection with the Fenian organization; the second put a hypothetical case as to what the Irish people would do if they were in the field of arms; and the third quotation was in the shape of a warning as regards the action of the Government. It was conceded, he believed, that Davitt was at one time connected with the Fenian organization. The Report quoted by the Home Secretary was in these terms—He urged thorn to organize. What had organization done for Ireland? They saw the organization to which he had the honour to belong—the Fenian organization. They saw 549 that organization disestablished the Irish Church. So said Mr. Gladstone. Well, the organization of the tenant farmers would disestablish the landlords in half the time.The whole case rested upon this— whether Davitt said he was at that moment a member of the Fenian organization? If he meant that he had been a member of it he was only stating a fact of public knowledge; and even the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself would not argue that his past connection with Fenianism justified his being put back into prison. The report was a very slovenly one, in the third person. If the reporter had written—"They saw the organization to which he had had the honour to belong," it would have been clear that Davitt was referring to the past. Many years ago a friend of his said to him— "I am afraid the pluperfect is a very weak tense with Irish journalists." Therefore, on the omission of the word "had," in a slovenly report in the third person, the Home Secretary rested his whole case as regards Davitt's present connection with the Fenian organization. The second quotation put a perfectly hypothetical case; and the right hon. and learned Gentleman himself would hardly deny that a large number of the Irish people would be ready, if there were a chance of success, to appeal to arms in order to obtain a separation from this country. The third quotation conveyed a warning. Was a warning a menace? If so, there was not a Member of the Government who had not menaced the supremacy of the Queen and the safety of the Empire. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Mr. John Bright) had warned the Ministry of the day that, if the just rights of the Irish people were not granted, outrage, violence, and perhaps rebellion would result. Davitt had done no more. The Home Secretary had quoted a passage from one of Davitt's speeches about the "wolf-dog of Irish vengeance bounding across the Atlantic;" but that passage was directly qualified by another. Mr. Davitt said—Glorious indeed will be our victory, and high in the estimation of mankind will our grand old fatherland stand, if we can so curb our own passions and control our acts in this struggle for freedom as to march to success through provocation and danger without resorting to the wild justice of revenge or being guilty of anything which would sully the character of a proud and Christian people,550 Those words were an exhortation to the people to be manly and to shun all cowardly and brutal crime. Knowing, as he did, the dangers that were hatched in the insane brains and, he would say, the curdled hearts of certain Irish revolutionaries in America, Davitt acted the part of a Christian and humane man in uttering the words which had been quoted. He could not justly be held responsible for the rather disgusting language uttered by someone at a dinner six months after he was under lock and key. That the right hon. and learned Gentleman should have thought it necessary to refer to that matter was a striking proof of the weakness of his case. Then, touching Davitt's arrest, he put it to the House whether there was any other country in Europe, except perhaps Russia, where a man, after being released from imprisonment for a political offence, could be again thrown back into his prison cell. He had the pleasure and the honour of this "convict's" acquaintance, and he could say that no man was more filled than Davitt with the spirit of pure and honest political feeling. They all knew the sadness and bitterness of his early career. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman's earliest recollections were of his being turned out of house and home and sent into exile, would not he endeavour to put an end to the vile system which produced such results? In conclusion, he had only to say that, although Davitt was, at the present moment, within the walls of a prison, his name was enshrined in the hearts of millions of his countrymen.
§ MR. W. E. FORSTER
said, he knew that at that time of the day it was unreasonable to make speeches, and his right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary had already spoken on behalf of the Government, and had stated the case of the Government very fully and very faithfully. He must, however, express his gratification at hearing the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. T. P. O'Connor) characterize certain language as "disgusting." He should not have thought that that was the opinion of the hon. Member. The language seemed to have been received by the hon. Member's friends at the time it was uttered with loud cheers. It was a mistake to regard the arrest of Michael Davitt as a political necessity. In assuming it to 551 be so, hon. Members opposite showed they were not aware of the real necessity with which the Government had to deal. Poltical necessity meant generally rebellion or insurrection, or difficulties involving the relations of England with Ireland, or the independence of Ireland. Now, what the Government had to deal with was an administrative necessity arising out of a very hard struggle which they had to maintain against those who were making government in Ireland almost impossible. No doubt, there was much in Davitt's early life to induce one to make allowance for him. His language even showed occasionally a nobility of feeling which might fairly give reason to hope that, being still a comparatively young man, he might some day become a more useful member of society than he was at present. But at the time of his arrest it was clear to the Government that Davitt was very reprehensibly the main conductor of an agitation that endangered life and property, perhaps more than he intended. In addition to that, he was a ticket-of-leave convict out upon good behaviour. If they had allowed him to go on longer taking the part he did, an idea would have got abroad in Ireland—as, indeed, it did—that the power of the law had failed. It would have been said that they could not be serious in their attempts to vindicate law and order if they left it to a man whose sentence had not expired to be one of the main instigators of disorder. ["Oh!"] Such was the opinion of the Government, though they did not expect hon. Members opposite to agree in that statement. If Michael Davitt had not been arrested it would have been exceedingly difficult for the Government to convince the Irish people of their intention to give them security and protection. He would make no allusion to the paltry charge that he had arrested Michael Davitt on account of some personal charge which had been made against himself. It was those remarks against himself that made him anxious that for a time Davitt should not be arrested; but very soon he was obliged to give up any feeling of the sort.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 61; Noes 19: Majority 42.—(Div. List, No. 404.)552
§ Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.