Page:Life of John Boyle O'Reilly.djvu/43

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HIS LIFE, POEMS AND SPEECHES.

economy, which knows no sentiment, had decided that cattle were more profitable dwellers on the soil than men and women.

Ireland was "pacified." There was less discontent in 1860 than there had been twenty years before; because there were fewer men and women, by three millions, to be discontented. Order reigned in Ireland, as it had reigned in Warsaw. And so the country was desperately ripe for, insurrection.

The Fenians had planned a far-reaching scheme of revolution. Popular discontent with misgovernment could be relied upon as one agency; for the Irishman is ever a rebel against tyranny. Centuries of bitter experience have not broken his spirit, nor checked his aspirations.

The American Civil War was another element. The leaders counted on sympathy and aid from the people of the North, sorely grieved by the conduct of England in abetting the South. They counted on the more active support of thousands of Irish-American soldiers who owed a double debt of vengeance to the oppressors of their native land and the enemy of their adopted country.

But their shrewdest expectation was based on the disaffection which they hoped, and not in vain, to be able to sow in the ranks of the British army itself. More than thirty-one per cent, of the rank and file of that army, in 1860, were Irishmen.

The proportion of potential rebels was morally increased when John Boyle O'Reilly went over to Ireland, in May, 1863, to enlist as a trooper in the Tenth Hussars. One does not weigh dangerous consequences against generous impulses, at nineteen years of age. No more does he inquire with minute casuistry into the exact moral values of the deed. In entering the military service of the British Government, with the object of overthrowing the monarchy, he was guilty of treason, in the eye of the law.

But the penalty of treason, in any form, was death. There is no higher penalty; if there were it would have been decreed for such offenses. Whether he plotted against