Page:Life of John Boyle O'Reilly.djvu/249

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HIS LIFE, POEMS AND SPEECHES

Irish farmers. Ireland does not want this to-day, and would be most unwise to accept it. If England during the past two years had had statemen of first-rate quality, she would have speedily offered this settlement; and had the people of Ireland accepted her offer, they would now find themselves more inextricably bound to Great Britain than ever the act of Union bound them.

If the English Government purchase the land from the landlords and resell it to the farmers of Ireland, the world's opinion will hold these men bound to their contract. The legitimate outcome of the Land League is therefore not national. It was never meant to be national. On the contrary, it would be the doom of Irish nationality, at least for a full generation, until the debt of the farmers to the English Government had been repaid.

Some, and many, will say that Ireland—even in the case of such a sale— would owe England nothing, in view of the centuries of wrong and robbery. This is doubtless true in equity; but why make a contract at all? It will not help matters any way. Better to preserve the integrity of the Irish farmer, even though he should starve. If the present 630,000 tenant farmers, augmented by at least a million more, as they would be, were to agree to buy from England the land of Ireland, meaning to break the bargain by a revolution next year, their conduct would be, in the mildest judgment of other nations, deceitful and discreditable.

It is not necessary to do this. For the best interests of Ireland it must not be done.

"But," it will be said by some Irishmen, "the Land League means to abolish rent altogether." It means no such thing. It has never said so, nor has it ever so intended. Such a proposition is absurd, so far at least as the present Irish question is concerned. It is a social theory which no country has yet accepted. No sensible person expects poor Ireland, struggling for very life, to voluntarily burden herself also with a socialistic mill-stone that would probably sink the United States.

Therefore, if the Land League has only one legitimate purpose, and if Ireland has reason to reconsider that purpose, it is time to look ahead and take new bearings.

The aim of Ireland in doing this is fortunately assisted by time and tradition. The year 1883 is the centennial of the Irish Parliament obtained by the agitation of Henry Grattan. The progressive issue of the land agitation is a demand for a government of Ireland by the Irish themselves.

Circumstances never worked more fortuitously to an end than here. The Land League has accomplished its work so far as it can safely and wisely be accomplished. The whole people are aroused. The English