Letter to Lord Clarendon, United Irishman, 1848

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Letter to Lord Clarendon, United Irishman, 12 February, 1848.
by John Mitchel
This Letter to Lord Clarendon, United Irishman, 12 February, 1848, was later used in Mitchel's trial.


TO THE RIGHT HON.
The Earl of Clarendon,
Englishman ; calling himself
HER MAJESTY’S LORD LIEUTENANT GENERAL AND
GENERAL GOVERNOR OF IRELAND.


MY LORD, To you, as the official representative of foreign dominion in our enslaved island, I mean to address a few plain words upon the aim and design of this new journal, THE UNITED IRISHMAN: with which your Lordship and your Lordship’s masters and servants are to have more to do than may be agreeable either to you or to me.

These words shall be so very plain, that even if your Lordship vouchsafe to read them, I count upon your being unable (because you are a Whig and a diplomatist) to understand them in their simple meaning. I am going to mystify “the Government” and the lawyers by telling the naked truth, whereof they are all hereby to take notice.

Simply, the, THE UNITED IRISHMAN newspaper has been undertaken by men who see that the sway of your nation here is drawing near its latter day—who know that all its splendid apparatus of glittering soldiers and conciliating statesmen, all its obscure and obscene lower world of placemen, place-beggars, place-jobbers, spies, special jurors, informers, and suborners—that is all a weak imposture, an ugly night-mare lying on the breast of our sick state—that it is made up of prestige, and maintained by “striking terror,” and needs but charm of Truth, a few true words spoken, a few bold deeds done—and the whole hideous brood will vanish like foul fiends at cock-crow.

Yes, indeed; these men believe full surely that they, even they, young men, undistinguished men, without arms in their hands, money in their purse, or a party at their back, are more than a match for the British Government in Ireland; can abolish the prestige and that præternatural terror (shadows which shake men’s souls more than the substance of ten thousand soldiers); and can then, almost without an effort, grasp the monster by the throat and drag him, strangled, forth from his enchanted “Castle.”

I am now, in order the better to confound your politics, going to give you a true account of the means we intend to use, and of the rules, signs, and pass-words of our new United Irish Society Lodge A. 1.—They are so simple that you will never believe them.

An exact half-century has passed away since the last Holy War waged in this island, to sweep it clear of the English name and nation. And we differ from the illustrious conspirators of Ninety-Eight, not in principle—no, not an iota—but as I shall presently shew you, materially as to the mode of action. Theirs was a secret conspiracy,—ours is a public one. They had not learned the charm of open, honest, outspoken resistance to oppression: and through their secret organization you wrought their ruin ;—we defy you, and all the informers and detectives that British corruption ever bred. No espionage can tell you more than we will proclaim once a week on the house-tops.

If you desire to have a Castle detective employed about THE UNITED IRISHMAN Office in Trinity-street I shall make no objection, provided the man be sober and honest. If Sir GEORGE GREY or Sir WILLIAM SOMERVILLE would like to read our correspondence, we make him welcome for the present,—only let the letters be forwarded without losing a post. So that you see we get rid of the whole crew of informers at once.

Now as to our positive action—Your Lordship, I believe, has read the Prospectus of our journal—in fact, I know you have:—Well, we count upon a great circulation for this weekly sheet of ours, amongst the industrious classes both in town and country all Ireland over; and we do really intend to preach and enforce the various principles there set down, to follow the same to all their consequences, and to point out in plain language the directest means of putting them into practice. Just take our third axiom, that the Life of a peasant is as scared as the Life of a nobleman—why it seems a truism, and yet it is denied and set at nought by all your “laws,” as you call them. But consider what follows from that truth; consider all its practical bearings, and how, if once apprehended and laid to heart by the people, it is likely to be realized; think of the collateral questions involved—”if there be a surplus, who are the surplus ?”—”the hard-working or the idle ?”—”surplus once ascertained, how to be got rid of?” and the like; and then imagine how these questions are likely to find solution amongst “an excitable peasantry.” Yet they are fair and legitimate questions, nay, pressing, life-or-death questions:and we mean in the columns of this UNITED IRISHMAN to argue, discuss, illustrate, and, if possible, determine them.

We will do the like by the other maxims in our Prospectus :— That legal and constitutional agitation in Ireland is a delusion :— That every man (except a born slave, who aspires only to beget slaves and die a slave,) ought to have ARMS and to practise the use of them :—

I shall not insult your Lordship’s excellent understanding by pointing out to you all the manifest consequences that follow from these plain truths. But the people are not so acute—they need to have every one of these matters elucidated for them one by one, and set in all possible points of view; for indeed they are a simple and credulous people, and have had much base teaching. They have been taught, for instance, that “patience and perseverance” in rags and starvation is a virtue—that to eat the food they sow and reap is a crime, and that “the man who commits a crime [this sort of crime] gives strength to the enemy. They were not taught by these bad teachers to avoid real crimes, lying, boasting, cringing, rearing up their children as beggars, taking their children’s bread and giving it unto dogs. None of all this they learned yet; but please God they shall.

It is against the “law” it seems, to preach all this ; and your Lordship and the “law-officers,” I have heard say, will overwhelm me with an indictment—and indeed I am told the worthy Chief Justice, at Clonmel lately, (where he was “striking terror” into Tipperary), on seeing the programme of this paper, did roll his eyes like a carnivorous ogre, and then and there christened it the Queen’s Bench Gazette; never doubting that he would make a meal of it one day in his den at Inn’s-quey.

Yes, of course you will prosecute before long; in self-defence, I hope, you must ;—that you will bid the sheriff to bid Mr. PONDER (that, I think, is the gentleman’s name) not to pack the jury. A high-minded English nobleman, a conciliatory and ameliorative nobleman, so gracious at Lord Mayor’s feasts, so condescending at Antient Concerts, so blandly benignant at reunions of literary persons,—surely such a nobleman as this will not play with loaded dice, or with marked cards, to juggle away an accused man’s liberty or life. No, I feel that I have only to mention the circumstance in order to make you hasten to arrange this point with the worthy sheriff.

But lest there should be any mistake, I will tell you what I shall do—there shall be no secrets from you. I intend, then, to pay special regard to the jury lists, to excite public attention continually to the jury arrangements of this city; and, above all, to publish a series of interesting lectures on “the office and duty of jurors,” more especially in cases of sedition, where the “law” is at one side, and the liberty of their country at the other.

I need say no more. You must now perceive that this same anticipated prosecution is one of the chief weapons wherewith we mean to storm and sack the enchanted Castle. For be it known to you, that in such a case you shall either publicly, boldly, notoriously, pack a jury, or else see the accused rebel walk a free man out of the Court of Queen’s Bench—which will be a victory only less than the rout of your Lordship’s redcoats in the open field. And think you that in case of such a victory, I will not repeat the blow? and again repeat it,—until all the world shall see that England’s law dose not govern this nation?

But you will pack? You will bravely defy threats and bullying, and insolent public opinion, and do your duty? You will have up THE UNITED IRISHMAN before twelve of your Lordship’s lion-and-unicorn tradesmen who are privileged to supply some minor matters for the viceregal establishment? Will you do this, and carry your conviction with a high hand? I think you will, nay, I think you must, if you and your nation mean to go on making even a show of governing here.

Well, then, I will have other men ready to take up my testimony—ready and willing. Oh, Porsena CLARENDON! to thrust their hands into the blazing fire until it be extinguished. But you will ask for additional “powers?” You will resort to courts-martial, and triangles, and free quarters? Well, that, at last, will be the end of “constitutional agitation,” and Irishmen will then find themselves front to front with their enemies, and feel that there is no help in franchises, in votings, in spoutings, in shoutings, and toasts drank with enthusiasm—nor in any thing in this world save the extensor and contractor muscles of their right arms, in these and in the goodness of God above. To that issue the “condition of Ireland question” must be brought.

I trust you are now aware of all our open secret. In plain English, my Lord Earl, the deep and irreconcileable disaffection of this people to all British laws, lawgivers, and law-administrators shall find a voice. That holy Hatred of foreign dominion which nerved our noble predecessors fifty years ago, for the dungeon, the field, or the gallows, (though of late years it has worn a vile nisiprius gown and snivelled somewhat in courts of law and on spouting platforms), still lives, thank God! and glows as fierce and hot as ever. To educate that holy Hatred, to make it known itself, and avow itself, and at last fill itself full, I hereby devote the columns of the UNITED IRISHMAN,

And I have the honor to be, &c., &c.
John Mitchel
12, Trinity-street,
12th February, 1848.

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