Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 43.djvu/334

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

this doctrine, that there will be no man so full of avarice, so lost to shame, as to dare the public opinion of all right-thinking men within the county, and to transgress your unwritten code of laws.’

The method of intimidation thus recommended by Parnell was at once adopted in its full rigour by the peasant members of all branches of the league, and was soon known as ‘boycotting,’ after the name of its first important victim, Captain Boycott of Lough Mask, co. Galway. The immorality of the practice was long the theme of English politicians, and it was condemned in a papal rescript addressed to the catholic bishops in Ireland in 1887.

Throughout the autumn of 1880 the government in Ireland was paralysed. A state of utter lawlessness prevailed, and murderous outrages were of almost daily occurrence. The total number of agrarian crimes in Ireland rose from 301 in 1878 to 863 in 1879, to 2,590 in 1880, and to 4,439 in 1881. On 9 Oct. 1880 Dr. MacCabe, the catholic archbishop of Dublin, issued a pastoral reprobating the outrages and condemning the leaders of the agitation for failing to denounce crime. Parnell was undismayed. Speaking at a meeting of the land league at Galway on 24 Oct., he attacked the chief secretary, who was boldly trying to stem the tide of disorder, as ‘our hypocritical chief secretary,’ and derided him as ‘Buckshot Forster,’ because he had allowed the employment of buckshot by soldiers in suppressing riots.

The first blow which the government struck at Parnell proved ineffectual. In October his secretary, Mr. T. M. Healy, was arrested on a charge of justifying an attempt at murder. On 2 Nov. informations for seditious conspiracy were laid against himself and four of his parliamentary colleagues—John Dillon, J. G. Biggar, T. D. Sullivan, and T. Sexton. The defendants were brought to trial in January 1881, but the jury disagreed (on 24 Jan.), and Parnell and the land league were stronger than before.

Meanwhile, on 6 Jan., the ministers summoned parliament in order to deal with the disturbed condition of Ireland. On 24 Jan. Mr. Forster asked leave to introduce a rigorous bill for the protection of persons and property in that country. Its provisions practically suspended the Habeas Corpus Act. A second bill enabling the police to search for arms was at the same time announced. Next day Mr. Gladstone secured precedence for the debate on the two bills after a discussion which was protracted for twenty-two consecutive hours by Parnell's lieutenants. On 28 Jan. the discussion on leave to introduce the Coercion Bill was continued, and Mr. Gladstone, in a passionate speech, asserted that, ‘with fatal and painful precision, the steps of crime dogged the steps of the land league.’ Parnell defied every parliamentary convention in resisting the passage of this bill. Unlike most of his countrymen, he had little faith in parliamentary oratory. ‘Speeches are not business,’ he told his friends. ‘This fight cannot be fought out by speeches. We must stop the work of this house. We must show these gentlemen that if they don't do what we want, they shall do nothing else. That is the only way this fight can be fought out.’ Throughout the battle Parnell was indefatigable in maintaining the struggle at fever heat. He rarely left the house. No shirking on the part of his followers was possible under his rigid gaze. An English member favourable to his cause vainly appealed to him to relax his obstructive tactics, but he was inexorable. ‘The government want war,’ he said, ‘and they shall have it.’ The sitting which began on Monday, 31 Jan., at four o'clock, to continue the discussion on the introduction of the measure, he managed to prolong till half-past nine on Wednesday morning. It was then brought to a close, after a debate of forty-one hours, by the action of the speaker, who refused to hear further speeches. Parnell was not in the house when this decision was announced, and the bill was introduced.

On 2 Feb. Mr. Davitt's ticket of leave was cancelled, and he was re-arrested. On 3 Feb. Mr. Gladstone introduced resolutions once more reforming the procedure of the house, whereupon Parnell and his friends resorted to such disorderly protests that he himself and twenty-six of his followers were summarily suspended by the speaker for the rest of the day's sitting. The new rules of procedure enabled the house to pass the Coercion Bill, and on 2 March it received the royal assent. After dealing with the Coercion Bill the government took up the land question, and on 7 April 1881 Mr. Gladstone introduced a measure which gave full recognition to tenant right throughout Ireland, and established a new tribunal—a land court—to fix fair rents. Parnell received the bill with caution. He was not warm in its praise. He was critical. The bill was good as far as it went, but did not go far enough. He and the conservatives moved numberless amendments in committee, but the measure, which was under discussion in the House of Commons for four months to the exclusion of all other business, was read a third time on 29 July. On 16 Aug. it passed the lords, and received the royal assent a few days later.