« PreviousContinue »
emerged unscathed. But the accidents of their position have made them a class, divorced from their dependents in three-fourths'of Ireland; they have dared, moreover, to cross Mr. Gladstone and Mr. Parnell in their Home Rule Alliance; and, therefore, it is a patriotic virtue to drive them from their homes, and to compass their ruin. Yet thinking persons will perhaps recollect that the destruction, in Ireland, of the English garrison, was an incident in a great scheme of treason; and that a general onslaught on Irish landlords, is not only in itself a crime, but has shaken Property. and Order througout these kingdoms. The Parnellite agitation has been a leading cause of the movement against Tithe and the Church in Wales, and of the disastrous strife between Labour and Capital, which has become an evil sign of the times.
Though only a part of the treasonable plot, the attack on Irish “landlordism," and the agrarian war that followed, became the chief features of the wide-spread conspiracy. Even those who declaim against Irish landlords, and desire to see the order effaccd, will hesitate to admire the methods by which the two Leagues have endeavoured to attain their object.
The fifth and part of the second of the charges made by The Times are that the respondent M.P.’s, “by their speeches and by payments made for that “ purpose, incited persons to the commission of crime, “ including murder ;" and that “ the conspiracy sought to “ attain its ends by a system of coercion and intimidation.” The Parnellite Members have been absolved from the guilt of directly inciting to murder, as regards this branch of the fifth charge; but the Commissioners add that “the “ speeches made” . . . . “had the effect of causing an “excitable peasantry to carry out the laws of the Land “ League, even by assassination.” I must say a word on this pregnant finding, which has been described as a complete acquittal of the Parnellite chiefs from the terrible charge of complicity with crime of a murderous nature. In the first place, the verdict applies to the Members affected, and to them alone; it has no reference to their partners in the Leagues, and other conspicuous worthies of the kind, who left the country after the deed in the Phoenix Park; and it should be added here—a most striking fact—-that a great number of impeached persons did not dare to appear before the judges, and, accordingly have escaped their censure. In the second place, the finding extends to the question only of legal guilt ; it merely amounts to this, that a single section of the Parnellite leaders were not guilty in the opinion of a regular Court of Law, bound down by the strict rules of evidence, of distinctly advising the crime of murder; and, had it ended here, it would have left the question of moral guilt open for public enquiry. But, in the third place, the Report pronounces a significant judgment on this very question. The Commissioners have found that some of the persons charged used, on several occaSions, “ most dangerous language ;” and, indeed, when we recollect how Mr. M. Harris, in the presence, it has been alleged, of Mr. Parnell, declared that “ if the tenant-farmers “ shot down landlords as partridges are shot he would “ never say a word against them; ” how Mr. Parnell himself, addressing a mob, in view of the corpse, so to speak, of a murdered man, only described the deed as “ an “ unnecessary procedure, where there was a suitable organi“ sation,” as a kind of alternative ; and how Mr. Biggar, on another occasion, confined himself to “ not recommending “the shooting of landlords,” because it was “an extreme “ measure, and undesirable in the interests of the “cause; " there can be no second opinion on this matter. But this “ dangerous language," and language tenfold worse, used by other prominent agents of the Leagues, was employed to promulgate, and, if necessary, to enforce the observance of an “ unwritten law,” which in numerous instances, caused murder, not to speak of a Reign of Terror, and agrarian outrages on an immense scale; and this being the fact, it is no wonder that the Commissioners have found the accused responsible, from a moral point of view, for the worst kind of crime. English law properly dislikes constructive crime, and requires positive proof of direct complicity in order to bring home the guilt of crime; but the moral law is expressed in the striking words “ woe “ to them from whom offences come ; ” and, tried by this test, the Parnellite chiefs may be left, on the fifth charge, to the doom of History.
Forty-four of the accused have been declared guilty in the Report on part of the second charge; that is, they endeavoured to ruin Irish landlords “by a system of coercion and intimidation." Mr. Gladstone and his allies have laboured in vain to lessen the significance of this finding, which brings before us perhaps the worst incidents of the Parnellite movement on its social side. Mr. Parnell propounded the method of “boycotting” as the avowed substitute for agrarian outrage; having preached passive resistance to the payment of rent, and compelled landlords to have resort to eviction, he announced that evicted farms were to be left derelict, and that the “people” should “shun as a leper” any “land grabber” who should take land from which a tenant had been removed for not paying his debts. This wicked doctrine was eagerly taken up; and as the two Leagues extended their evil power, it was applied to all persons who, in any way, disobeyed the “unwritten agrarian law ” of confederacies, which, in some counties, had supplanted Law and the Government of the Queen, and exercised fearful “anarchic oppression," in Mr. Gladstone's appropriate language. That “boycotting,” even in the abstract, is a crime is certain; it is a direct attack on the rights of a class; it keeps land out of commerce to the public detriment ; it deprives its victims of the first rights of citizens, security, freedom, and the power of acquiring property. But this is no measure of the atrocious guilt of this execrable system as it was carried out in Ireland, where the Land and National Leagues had become dominant. In those districts the organizations had Committees everywhere, as a rule one for each parish and town, resembling the ]acobin Clubs of I79!-3; these bodies enforced the League mandates with pitiless and farreaching severity; and “boycotting” became, under these conditions, as cruel a tyranny as was ever practised, especially in places where the population was sparse, and it was difficult to obtain the conveniences and the necessaries of life. A social ostracism, as tremendous at least as that caused by mediwval Interdicts, was thus directed, in the words of the Report, “ against those who “ paid their rent when others refused to pay . . .
“ against agents of landlords, bailiffs, caretakers, emergency “ men called in to prevent land becoming waste, against “those who supplied goods to such men, and generally “ against all who supplied food or even spoke to boycotted “ persons; against those who refused to join the League; “against those who gave evidence in Courts of justice “ adverse to those accused of agrarian crime; against “those who supplied cars to the police; against the “children of boycotted persons, and the schools they “attended; and against a school because an assistant “teacher was related to persons who had offended the “ League. The funerals of obnoxious persons were put “ under a similar ban, and even coffins or the wood to “ make them were withheld from the dead.”
This, however, is not a complete account of “ boycotting” in its effects and working. The interdict of the Leagues is a kind of sentence; and whenever these Bodies became powerful, the ostracism that followed was an unchallenged
result; the system was self-acting, and, in appearance, peaceable; and farms were left derelict and “obnoxious “ persons ” banned, that is handed over to ruin and misery, over whole districts, without a sign of violence. As Sir james Stephen has well pointed out, the worst feature, perhaps, of this scheme of wickedness, is that it saps society without shocking humanity by open and repeated crime; and it has been compared to the pestilence that walks in darkness, and that destroys its victims stealthily and in deadly silence. But before this quiescent state has been reached, and those who are proscribed submit to it, it becomes necessary to enforce the sentence. This can only be done by deterrent punishment; and, accordingly, the Leagues were compelled to inflict the edict of “ boycotting" by crime and outrage, until they had become supreme in any given district. This law, Mr. Gladstone truly remarked, must“ have a sanction ” like any other law; the “ sanction ” of boycotting was “the ‘assassination’ that was not denounced;" and shooting in the legs, cutting off the hair of girls, the mutilation of dumb beasts, and other barbarities formed a graduated scale of inferior penalties. The prelude to the system devised by Mr. Parnell was the most frightful outbreak of agrarian crime that probably was ever known in Ireland: assassins and moonlighters lurked in companies behind the “boycotters" of the two Leagues, and murder, outrage and lawless disorder stalked, scarcely kept under, through whole counties. The responsibility for this atrocious terrorism attaches to the Parnellite leaders convicted upon the charge of “boycotting;” and Sir Charles Russell, their distinguished advocate, felt this so strongly, in this part of his case, that he laboured for days to refer the horrors of the Land War of 1879-82 to causes other than the conduct of the Leagues. In this attempt, however, he completely failed ; and the remarks of the judges on this subject form one of the most valuable