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Daniel O'Connell (1875.)

On the one hundredth anniversary of the birth of Daniel O'Connell, August 6, 1875, a celebration was held in Music Hall, Boston. Mr. Phillips was the orator of the occasion. No subject could have been more congenial, for no statesman of his own day had more deeply impressed Mr. Phillips than O'Connell, and the name of the Irish agitator was often on the American agitators lips. The oration was often repeated, and takes rank with the orator's masterpieces.

A hundred years ago to-day Daniel O'Connell was born. The Irish race, wherever scattered over the globe, assembles to-night to pay fitting tribute to his memory,--one of the most eloquent men, one of the most devoted patriots, and the most successful statesman which that race has given to history. We of other races may well join you in that tribute, since the cause of constitutional government owes more to O'Connell than to any other political leader of the last two centuries. The English-speaking race, to find his equal among its statesmen, must pass by Chatham and Walpole, and go back to Oliver Cromwell, or the able men who held up the throne of Queen Elizabeth. If to put the civil and social elements of your day into successful action, and plant the seeds of continued strength and progress for coming times,--if this is to be a statesman, then most emphatically was O'Connell one. To exert this control, and secure this progress, while and because ample means lie ready for use under your hand, does not rob Walpole and Colbert, Chatham and Richelieu, [385] of their title to be considered statesmen. To do it, as Martin Luther did, when one must ingeniously discover or invent his tools, and while the mightiest forces that influence human affairs are arrayed against him, that is what ranks O'Connell with the few masterly statesmen the English-speaking race has ever had. When Napoleon's soldiers bore the negro chief Toussaint L'Ouverture into exile, he said, pointing back to San Domingo, “You think you have rooted up the tree of liberty, but I am only a branch. I have planted the tree itself so deep that ages will never root it up.” And whatever may be said of the social or industrial condition of Hayti during the last seventy years, its nationality has never been successfully assailed.

O'Connell is the only Irishman who can say as much of Ireland. From the peace of Utrecht, 1713, till the fall of Napoleon, Great Britain was the leading State in Europe; while Ireland, a comparatively insignificant island, lay at its feet. She weighed next to nothing in the scale of British politics. The Continent pitied, and England despised her. O'Connell found her a mass of quarrelling races and sects, divided, dispirited, brokenhearted, and servile. He made her a nation whose first word broke in pieces the iron obstinacy of Wellington, tossed Peel from the cabinet, and gave the government to the Whigs; whose colossal figure, like the helmet in Walpole's romance, has filled the political sky ever since; whose generous aid thrown into the scale of the three great British reforms,--the ballot, the corn-laws, and slavery,--secured their success; a nation whose continual discontent has dragged Great Britain down to be a second-rate power on the chess-board of Europe. I know other causes have helped in producing this result, but the nationality which O'Connell created has been the main cause of this change in England's importance. [386] Dean Swift, Molyneux, and Henry Flood thrust Ireland for a moment into the arena of British politics, a sturdy suppliant clamoring for justice; and Grattan held her there an equal, and, as he thought, a nation, for a few years. But the unscrupulous hand of William Pitt brushed away in an hour all Grattan's works. Well might he say of the Irish Parliament which he brought to life, “I sat by its cradle, I followed its hearse ;” since after that infamous union, which Byron called a “union of the shark with its prey,” Ireland sank back, plundered and helpless. O'Connell lifted her to a fixed and permanent place in English affairs,--no suppliant, but a conqueror dictating her terms.

This is the proper standpoint from which to look at O'Connell's work. This is the consideration that ranks him, not with founders of States, like Alexander, Caesar, Bismarck, Napoleon, and William the Silent, but with men who, without arms, by force of reason, have revolutionized their times,--with Luther, Jefferson, Mazzini, Samuel Adams, Garrison, and Franklin. I know some men will sneer at this claim,--those who have never looked at him except through the spectacles of English critics, who despised him as an Irishman and a Catholic, until they came to hate him as a conqueror. As Grattan said of Kirwan, “The curse of Swift was upon him, to have been born an Irishman and a man of genius, and to have used his gifts for his country's good.” Mark what measure of success attended the able men who preceded him, in circumstances as favorable as his, perhaps even better; then measure him by comparison.

An island soaked with the blood of countless rebellions; oppression such as would turn cowards into heroes; a race whose disciplined valor had been proved on almost every battlefield in Europe, and whose reckless [387] daring lifted it, any time, in arms against England, with hope or without,--what inspired them? Devotion, eloquence, and patriotism seldom paralleled in history. Who led them? Dean Swift, according to Addison, “the greatest genius of his age,” called by Pope “the incomparable,” a man fertile in resources, of stubborn courage and tireless energy, master of an English style unequalled, perhaps, for its purpose then or since, a man who had twice faced England in her angriest mood, and by that masterly pen subdued her to his will; Henry Flood, eloquent even for an Irishman, and sagacious as he was eloquent,--the eclipse of that brilliant life one of the saddest pictures in Irish biography; Grattan, with all the courage, and more than the eloquence, of his race, a statesman's eye quick to see every advantage, boundless devotion, unspotted integrity, recognized as an equal by the world's leaders, and welcomed by Fox to the House of Commons as the “Demosthenes of Ireland ;” Emmet in the field, Sheridan in the senate, Curran at the bar; and, above all, Edmund Burke, whose name makes eulogy superfluous, more than Cicero in the senate, almost Plato in the academy. All these gave their lives to Ireland; and when the present century opened, where was she? Sold like a slave in the market-place by her perjured master, William Pitt.

It was then that O'Connell flung himself into the struggle, gave fifty years to the service of his country; and where is she to-day? Not only redeemed, but her independence put beyond doubt or peril. Grattan and his predecessors could get no guaranties for what rights they gained. In that sagacious, watchful, and almost omnipotent public opinion, which O'Connell created, is an all-sufficient guaranty of Ireland's future. Look at her! almost every shackle has fallen from her limbo; all that human wisdom has as yet devised to remedy the [388] evils of bigotry and misrule has been done. O'Connell found Ireland a “hissing and a byword” in Edinburgh and London. He made her the pivot of British politics; she rules them, directly or indirectly, with as absolute a sway as the slave question did the United States from 1850 to 1865. Look into Earl Russell's book, and the history of the Reform Bill of 1832, and see with how much truth it may be claimed that O'Connell and his fellows gave Englishmen the ballot under that act. It is by no means certain that the corn-laws could have been abolished without their aid. In the Antislavery struggle O'Connell stands, in influence and ability, equal with the best. I know the credit all those measures do to English leaders; but, in my opinion, the next generation will test the statesmanship of Peel, Palmerston, Russell, and Gladstone, almost entirely by their conduct of the Irish question. All the laurels they have hitherto won in that field are rooted in ideas which Grattan and O'Connell urged on reluctant hearers for half a century. Why do Bismarck and Alexander look with such contemptuous indifference on every attempt of England to mingle in European affairs? Because they know they have but to lift a finger, and Ireland stabs her in the back. Where was the statesmanship of English leaders when they allowed such an evil to grow so formidable? This is Ireland to-day. What was she when O'Connell undertook her cause? The saddest of Irish poets has described her:--

O Ireland, my country, the hour of thy pride and thy splendor hath passed,
And the chain that was spurned in thy moments of power hangs heavy around thee at last!
There are marks in the fate of each clime, there are turns in the fortunes of men;
But the changes of realms or the chances of time shall never restore [389]

Thou art chained to the wheel of the foe by links which a world cannot sever:
With thy tyrant through storm and through calm thou shall go, and thy sentence is bondage forever.
Thou art doomed for the thankless to toil, thou art left for the proud to disdain:
And the blood of thy sons and the wealth of thy soil shall be lavished and lavished in vain.

Thy riches with taunts shall be taken, thy valor with coldness be paid;
And of millions who see thee thus sunk and forsaken not one shall forth in thine aid.
In the nations thy place is left void; thou art lost in the list of the free;
Even realms by the plague and the earthquake destroyed may revive, but no hope is for thee.

It was at this moment, when the cloud came down close to earth, that O'Connell, then a young lawyer just admitted to the bar, flung himself in front of his countrymen, and begged them to make one grand effort. The hierarchy of the Church disowned him. They said, “We have seen every attempt lead always up to the scaffold; we are not willing to risk another effort.” The peerage of the Island repudiated him. They said, “We have struggled and bled for a half-dozen centuries; it is better to sit down content.” Alone, a young man, without office, without wealth, without renown, he flung himself in front of the people, and asked for a new effort. What was the power left him? Simply the people,--poverty-stricken, broken-hearted peasants, standing on a soil soaked with the blood of their ancestors, cowering under a code of which Brougham said that “they could not lift their hands without breaking it.” It was a community impoverished by five centuries of oppression,--four millions of Catholics robbed of every acre of their native land; it was an island torn by race-hatred and religious bigotry, her priests indifferent, and her nobles [390] hopeless or traitors. The wiliest of her enemies, a Protestant Irishman, ruled the British senate; the sternest of her tyrants, a Protestant Irishman, led the armies of Europe. Puritan hate, which had grown blinder and more bitter since the days of Cromwell, gave them weapons. Ireland herself lay bound in the iron links of a code which Montesquieu said could have been “made only by devils, and should be registered only in hell.” Her millions were beyond the reach of the great reform engine of modern times, since they could neither read nor write.

Well, in order to lead Ireland in that day an Irishman must have four elements, and he must have them also to a large extent to-day. The first is, he must be what an Irishman calls a gentleman, every inch of him, from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot,--that is, he must trace his lineage back to the legends of Ireland. Well, O'Connell could do that; he belonged to one of the perhaps seven royal families of the old history. Secondly, he must have proved his physical courage in the field or by the duel. Well, O'Connell knew this; his enemies knew it. Bred at St. Omer, with a large leaning to be a priest, he had the most emphatic scruples against the duel, and so announced himself; so that when he had got his head above the mass and began to be seen, a Major d'esterre, agent of the Dublin Corporation, visited him with continuous insult. Every word that had insult in it was poured upon his head through the journals. O'Connell saw the dread alternative,--he must either give satisfaction to the gentleman or leave the field; and at last he consented to a challenge. He passed the interval between the challenge and the day of meeting in efforts to avoid it, which were all attributed to cowardice. When at last he stood opposite his antagonist, he said to his second, “God forbid that I [391] should risk a life; mark me, I shall fire below the knee.” But you know in early practice with the pistol you always fire above the mark; and O'Connell's pistol took effect above the knee, and D'Esterre fell mortally wounded. O'Connell recorded in the face of Europe a vow against further duelling. He settled a pension on the widow of his antagonist; and a dozen years later, when he held ten thousand dollars' worth of briefs in the northern courts, he flung them away, and went to the extreme south to save for her the last acre she owned. After this his sons fought his duels; and when Disraeli, anxious to prove himself a courageous man, challenged O'Connell, he put the challenge in his pocket. Disraeli, to get the full advantage of the matter, sent his letter to the London Times; whereupon Maurice O'Connell sent the Jew a message that there was an O'Connell who would fight the duel if he wanted it, but his name was not Daniel. Disraeli did not continue the correspondence.

Thirdly, an Irish leader must not only be a lawyer of great acuteness, but he must have a great reputation for being such. He had to lift three millions of people, and fling them against a government that held in its hand a code which made it illegal for any one of them to move; and they never had moved prior to this that it did not end at the scaffold. For twenty long years O'Connell lifted these three millions of men, and flung them against the British government at every critical moment, and no sheriff ever put his hand on one of his followers; and when late in life the Queen's Bench of Judges, sitting in Dublin, sent him to jail, he stood almost alone in his interpretation of the statutes against the legal talent of the Island. He appealed to the House of Lords, and the judges of England confirmed his construction of the law, and set him free. Fourthly, an Irish leader must [392] be an orator; he must have the magic that moulds mil lions of souls into one. Of this I shall have more to say in a moment.

In this mass of Irish ignorance, weakness, and quarrel, one keen eye saw hidden the elements of union and strength. With rarest skill he called them forth, and marshalled them into rank. Then this one man, without birth, wealth, or office, in a land ruled by birth, wealth, and office, moulded from those unsuspected elements a power which, overawing king, senate, and people, wrote his single will on the statute-book of the most obstinate nation in Europe. Safely to emancipate the Irish Catholics, and in spite of Saxon-Protestant hate, to lift all Ireland to the level of British citizenship,--this was the problem which statesmanship and patriotism had been seeking for two centuries to solve. For this, blood had been poured out like water. On this, the genius of Swift, the learning of Molyneux, and the eloquence of Bushe, Grattan, and Burke, had been wasted. English leaders ever since Fox had studied this problem anxiously. They saw that the safety of the empire was compromised. At one or two critical moments in the reign of George III., one signal from an Irish leader would have snapped the chain that bound Ireland to his throne. His ministers recognized it; and they tried every expedient, exhausted every device, dared every peril, kept oaths or broke them, in order to succeed. All failed; and not only failed, but acknowledged they could see no way in which success could ever be achieved.

O'Connell achieved it. Out of this darkness, he called forth light. Out of this most abject, weak, and pitiable of kingdoms, he made a power; and dying, he left in Parliament a spectre, which, unless appeased, pushes Whig and Tory ministers alike from their stools. [393]

But Brougham says he was a demagogue. Fie on Wellington, Derby, Peel, Palmerston, Liverpool, Russell, and Brougham, to be fooled and ruled by a demagogue! What must they, the subjects, be, if O'Connell, their king, be only a bigot and a demagogue? A demagogue rides the storm; he has never really the ability to create one. He uses it narrowly, ignorantly, and for selfish ends. If not crushed by the force which, without his will, has flung him into power, he leads it with ridiculous miscalculation against some insurmountable obstacle that scatters it forever. Dying, he leaves no mark on the elements with which he has been mixed. Robespierre will serve for an illustration. It took O'Connell thirty years of patient and sagacious labor to mould elements whose existence no man, however wise, had ever discerned before. He used them unselfishly, only to break the yoke of his race. Nearly fifty years have passed since his triumph, but his impress still stands forth clear and sharp on the empire's policy. Ireland is wholly indebted to him for her political education. Responsibility educates; he lifted her to broader responsibilities. Her possession of power makes it the keen interest of other classes to see she is well informed. He associated her with all the reform movements of Great Britain. This is the education of affairs, broader, deeper, and more real than what school or college can give. This and power, his gifts, are the lever which lifts her to every other right and privilege. How much England owes him we can never know; since how great a danger and curse Ireland would have been to the empire had she continued the cancer Pitt and Castlereagh left her is a chapter of history which, fortunately, can never be written. No demagogue ever walked through the streets of Dublin, as O'Connell and Grattan did more than once, hooted and mobbed because they opposed [394] themselves to the mad purpose of the people, and crushed it by a stern resistance. No demagogue would have offered himself to a race like the Irish as the apostle of peace, pledging himself to the British government, that, in the long agitation before him, with brave millions behind him spoiling for a fight, he would never draw a sword.

I have purposely dwelt long on this view, because the extent and the far-reaching effects of O'Connell's work, without regard to the motives which inspired him, or the methods he used, have never been fully recognized.

Briefly stated, he did what the ablest and bravest of his forerunners had tried to do and failed. He created a public opinion, and unity of purpose,--no matter what be now the dispute about methods,--which made Ireland a nation; he gave her British citizenship, and a place in the imperial Parliament; he gave her a press and a public: with these tools her destiny is in her own hands. When the Abolitionists got for the negro schools and the vote, they settled the slave question; for they planted the sure seeds of civil equality. O'Connell did this for Ireland,--this which no Irishman before had ever dreamed of attempting. Swift and Molyneux were able. Grattan, Bushe, Saurin, Burrowes, Plunket, Curran, Burke, were eloquent. Throughout the Island courage was a drug. They gained now one point, and now another; but, after all, they left the helm of Ireland's destiny in foreign and hostile hands. O'Connell was brave, sagacious, eloquent; but, more than all, he was a statesman, for he gave to Ireland's own keeping the key of her future. As Lord Bacon marches down the centuries, he may lay one hand on the telegraph, and the other on the steam-engine, and say, “These are mine, for I taught you how to study Nature.” In a similar sense, as shackle after shackle falls from Irish [395] limbs, O'Connell may say, “This victory is mine; for I taught you the method, and I gave you the arms.”

I have hitherto been speaking of his ability and success; by and by we will look at his character, motives, and methods. This unique ability even his enemies have been forced to confess. Harriet Martineau, in her incomparable history of the “Thirty years peace,” has, with Tory hate, misconstrued every action of O'Connell, and invented a bad motive for each one. But even she confesses that “he rose in power, influence, and notoriety to an eminence such as no other individual citizen has attained in modern times” in Great Britain. And one of his by no means partial biographers has well said,--

“ Any man who turns over the magazines and newspapers of that period will easily perceive how grandly O'Connell's figure dominated in politics, how completely he had dispelled the indifference that had so long prevailed on Irish questions, how clearly his agitation stands forth as the great fact of the time. . . . The truth is, his position, so far from being a common one, is absolutely unique in history. We may search in vain through the records of the past for any man, who without the effusion of a drop of blood, or the advantages of office or rank, succeeded in governing a people so absolutely and so long, and in creating so entirely the elements of his power. ... There was no rival to his supremacy, there was no restriction to his authority. He played with the enthusiasm he had aroused, with the negligent ease of a master; he governed the complicated organization he had created, with a sagacity that never failed. He made himself the focus of the attention of other lands, and the centre around which the rising intellect of his own revolved. He had transformed the whole social system of Ireland; almost reversed the relative positions of Protestants and Catholics; remodelled by his influence the representative, ecclesiastical, and educational institutions, and created [396] a public opinion that surpassed the wildest dreams of his predecessors. Can we wonder at the proud exultation with which he exclaimed, ‘ Grattan sat by the cradle of his country, and followed her hearse; it was left for me to sound the resurrection trumpet, and to show that she was not dead, but sleeping’ ?”

But the method by which he achieved his success is perhaps more remarkable than even the success itself. An Irish poet, one of his bitterest assailants thirty years ago, has laid a chaplet of atonement on his altar, and one verse runs,--

great world-leader of a mighty age!
Praise unto thee let all the people give.
By thy great name of Liberator live
In golden letters upun history's page;
And this thy epitaph while time shall be,--
He found his country chained, but left her free.

It is natural that Ireland should remember him as her Liberator. But, strange as it may seem to you, I think Europe and America will remember him by a higher title. I said in opening, that the cause of constitutional government is more indebted to O'Connell than to any other political leader of the last two centuries. What I mean is, that he invented the great method of constitutional agitation. Agitator is a title which will last longer, which suggests a broader and more permanent influence, and entitles him to the gratitude of far more millions, than the name Ireland loves to give him. The “first great agitator” is his proudest title to gratitude and fame. Agitation is the method that puts the school by the side of the ballot-box. The Fremont canvass was the nation's best school. Agitation prevents rebellion, keeps the peace, and secures progress. Every step she gains is gained forever. Muskets are the weapons of animals; agitation is the atmosphere of brains. The [397] old Hindoo saw, in his dream, the human race led out to its various fortunes. First, men were in chains which went back to an iron hand; then he saw them led by threads from the brain which went upward to an unseen hand. The first was despotism, iron, and ruling by force. The last was civilization, ruling by ideas.

Agitation is an old word with a new meaning. Sir Robert Peel, the first English leader who felt he was its tool, defined it to be “the marshalling of the conscience of a nation to mould its laws.” O'Connell was the first to show and use its power, to lay down its principles, to analyze its elements, and mark out its metes and bounds. It is voluntary, public, and aboveboard,--no oath-bound secret societies like those of old time in Ireland, and of the Continent to-day. Its means are reason and argument,--no appeal to arms. Wait patiently for the slow growth of public opinion.

The Frenchman is angry with his government; he throws up barricades, and shots his guns to the lips. A week's fury drags the nation ahead a hand-breadth; reaction lets it settle half-way back again. As Lord Chesterfield said, a hundred years ago, “You Frenchmen erect barricades, but never any barriers.” An Englishman is dissatisfied with public affairs. He brings his charges, offers his proofs, waits for prejudice to relax, for public opinion to inform itself. Then every step taken is taken forever; an abuse once removed never reappears in history. Where did he learn this method? Practically speaking, from O'Connell. It was he who planted its corner-stone,--argument, no violence; no political change is worth a drop of human blood. His other motto was, “Tell the whole truth;” no concealing half of one's convictions to make the other half more acceptable; no denial of one truth to gain hearing for another; no compromise; or, as he [398] phrased it, “Nothing is politically right which is morally wrong.”

Above all, plant yourself on the millions. The sympathy of every human being, no matter how ignorant or how humble, adds weight to public opinion. At the outset of his career the clergy turned a deaf ear to his appeal. They had seen their flocks led up to useless slaughter for centuries, and counselled submission. The nobility repudiated him; they were either traitors or hopeless. Protestants had touched their Ultima Thule with Grattan, and seemed settling down in despair. English Catholics advised waiting till the tyrant grew merciful. O'Connell, left alone, said, “I will forge these four millions of Irish hearts into a thunderbolt which shall suffice to dash this despotism to pieces.” And he did it. Living under an aristocratic government, himself of the higher class, he anticipated Lincoln's wisdom, and framed his movements “for the people, of the people, and by the people.”

It is a singular fact, that the freer a nation becomes, the more utterly democratic the form of its institutions, this outside agitation, this pressure of public opinion to direct political action, becomes more and more necessary. The general judgment is, that the freest possible government produces the freest possible men and women,--the most individual, the least servile to the judgment of others. But a moment's reflection will show any man that this is an unreasonable expectation, and that, on the contrary, entire equality and freedom in political forms almost inevitably tend to make the individual subside into the mass, and lose his identity in the general whole. Suppose we stood in England to-night. There is the nobility, and here is the Church. There is the trading-class, and here is the literary. A broad gulf separates the four; and provided a member of either can conciliate [399] his own section, he can afford, in a very large measure, to despise the judgment of the other three. He has, to some extent, a refuge and a breakwater against the tyranny of what we call public opinion. But in a country like ours, of absolute democratic equality, public opinion is not only omnipotent, it is omnipresent. There is no refuge from its tyranny; there is no hiding from its reach; and the result is, that if you take the old Greek lantern, and go about to seek among a hundred, you will find not one single American who really has not, or who does not fancy at least that he has, something to gain or lose in his ambition, his social life, or his business, from the good opinion and the votes of those about him. And the consequence is, that,--instead of being a mass of individuals, each one fearlessly blurting out his own convictions,--as a nation, compared with other nations, we are a mass of cowards. More than any other people, we are afraid of each other.

If you were a caucus to-night, Democratic or Republican, and I were your orator, none of you could get beyond the necessary and timid limitations of party. You not only would not demand, you would not allow me to utter, one word of what you really thought, and what I thought. You would demand of me — and my value as a caucus speaker would depend entirely on the adroitness and the vigilance with which I met the demand — that I should not utter one single word which would compromise the vote of next week. That is politics; so with the press. Seemingly independent, and sometimes really so, the press can afford only to mount the cresting wave, not go beyond it. The editor might as well shoot his reader with a bullet as with a new idea. He must hit the exact line of the opinion of the day. I am not finding fault with him; I am only describing him. Some three years ago I took to one of [400] the freest of the Boston journals a letter, and by appropriate consideration induced its editor to print it. And as we glanced along its contents, and came to the concluding statement, he said, “Could n't you omit that?” I said, “No; I wrote it for that; it is the gist of the statement.” “Well,” said he, “it is true; there is not a boy in the streets that does not know it is true; but I wish you could omit it.”

I insisted; and the next morning, fairly and justly, he printed the whole. Side by side he put an article of his own, in which he said, “We copy in the next column an article from Mr. Phillips, and we only regret the absurd and unfounded statement with which he concludes it.” He had kept his promise by printing the article; he saved his reputation by printing the comment. And that, again, is the inevitable, the essential limitation of the press in a republican community. Our institutions, floating unanchored on the shifting surface of popular opinion, cannot afford to hold back, or to draw forward, a hated question, and compel a reluctant public to look at it and to consider it. Hence, as you see at once, the moment a large issue, twenty years ahead of its age, presents itself to the consideration of an empire or of a republic, just in proportion to the freedom of its institutions is the necessity of a platform outside of the press, of politics, and of its church, wheron stand men with no candidate to elect, with no plan to carry, with no reputation to stake, with no object but the truth, no purpose but to tear the question open and let the light through it. So much in explanation of a word infinitely hated,--agitation and agitators,--but an element which the progress of modern government has developed more and more every day.

The great invention we trace in its twilight and [401] seed to the days of the Long Parliament. Defoe and L'Estrange, later down, were the first prominent Englishmen to fling pamphlets at the House of Commons. Swift ruled England by pamphlets. Wilberforce summoned the Church, and sought the alliance of influential classes. But O'Connell first showed a profound faith in the human tongue. He descried afar off the coming omnipotence of the press. He called the millions to his side, appreciated the infinite weight of the simple human heart and conscience, and grafted democracy into the British empire. The later Abolitionists — Buxton, Sturge, and Thompson — borrowed his method. Cobden flung it in the face of the almost omnipotent landholders of England, and broke the Tory party forever. They only haunt upper air now in the stolen garments of the Whigs. The English administration recognizes this new partner in the government, and waits to be moved on. Garrison brought the new weapon to our shores. The only wholly useful and thoroughly defensible war Christendom has seen in this century, the greatest civil and social change the English race ever saw, are the result.

This great servant and weapon, peace and constitutional government owe to O'Connell. Who has given progress a greater boon? What single agent has done as much to bless and improve the world for the last fifty years?

O'Connell has been charged with coarse, violent, and intemperate language. The criticism is of little importance. Stupor and palsy never understand life. White-livered indifference is always disgusted and annoyed by earnest conviction. Protestants criticised Luther in the same way. It took three centuries to carry us far off enough to appreciate his colossal proportions. It is a hundred years to-day since O'Connell was born. It will take another hundred to put us' at [402] such an angle as will enable us correctly to measure his stature. Premising that it would be folly to find fault with a man struggling for life because his attitudes were ungraceful, remembering the Scythian king's answer to Alexander, criticising his strange weapon,--“If you knew how precious freedom was, you would defend it even with axes,” --we must see that O'Connell's own explanation is evidently sincere and true. He found the Irish heart so cowed, and Englishmen so arrogant, that he saw it needed an independence verging on insolence, a defiance that touched extremest limits, to breathe self-respect into his own race, teach the aggressor manners, and sober him into respectful attention.

It was the same with us Abolitionists. Webster had taught the North the bated breath and crouching of a slave. It needed with us an attitude of independence that was almost insolent, it needed that we should exhaust even the Saxon vocabulary of scorn, to fitly utter the righteous and haughty contempt that honest men had for man-stealers. Only in that way could we wake the North to self-respect, or teach the South that at length she had met her equal, if not her master. On a broad canvas, meant for the public square, the tiny lines of a Dutch interior would be invisible. In no other circumstances was the French maxim, “You can never make a revolution with rose-water,” more profoundly true. The world has hardly yet learned how deep a philosophy lies hid in Hamlet's,--

Nay, an thou 'lt mouth,
I'll rant as well as thou.

O'Connell has been charged with insincerity in urging repeal, and those who defended his sincerity have leaned toward allowing that it proved his lack of commonsense, I think both critics mistaken. His earliest [403] speeches point to repeal as his ultimate object; indeed, he valued emancipation largely as a means to that end. No fair view of his whole life will leave the slightest ground to doubt his sincerity. As for the reasonableness and necessity of the measure, I think every year proves them. Considering O'Connell's position, I wholly sympathize in his profound and unshaken loyalty to the empire. Its share in the British empire makes Ireland's strength and importance. Standing alone among the vast and massive sovereignties of Europe, she would be weak, insignificant, and helpless. Were I an Irishman I should cling to the empire.

Fifty or sixty years hence, when scorn of race has vanished, and bigotry is lessened, it may be possible for Ireland to be safe and free while holding the position to England that Scotland does. But during this generation and the next, O'Connell was wise in claiming that Ireland's rights would never be safe without “home rule.” A substantial repeal of the union should be every Irishman's earnest aim. Were I their adviser, I should constantly repeat what Grattan said in 1810, “The best advice, gentlemen, I can give on all occasions is, ‘ Keep knocking at the union.’ ”

We imagine an Irishman to be only a zealot on fire. We fancy Irish spirit and eloquence to be only blind, reckless, headlong enthusiasm. But, in truth, Grattan was the soberest leader of his day, holding scrupulously back the disorderly elements, which fretted under his curb. There was one hour, at least, when a word from him would have lighted a democratic revolt throughout the empire. And the most remarkable of O'Connell's gifts was neither his eloquence nor his sagacity: it was his patience,--“patience, all the passion of great souls;” the tireless patience, which, from 1800 to 1820, went from town to town, little aided by [404] the press, to plant the seeds of an intelligent and united, as well as hot patriotism. Then, after many years and long toil, waiting for rivals to be just, for prejudice to wear out, and for narrowness to grow wise, using British folly and oppression as his wand, he moulded the enthusiasm of the most excitable of races, the just and inevitable indignation of four millions of Catholics, the hate of plundered poverty, priest, noble, and peasant, into one fierce though harmonious mass. He held it in careful check, with sober moderation, watching every opportunity, attracting ally after ally, never forfeiting any possible friendship, allowing no provocation to stir him to anything that would not help his cause, compelling each hottest and most ignorant of his followers to remember that “he who commits a crime helps the enemy.” At last, when the hour struck, this power was made to achieve justice for itself, and put him in London,--him, this despised Irishman, this hated Catholic, this mere demagogue and man of words, him,--to hold the Tory party in one hand, and the Whig party in the other; all this without shedding a drop of blood, or disturbing for a moment the peace of the empire.

While O'Connell held Ireland in his hand, her people were more orderly, law-abiding, and peaceful than for a century before, or during any year since. The strength of this marvellous control passes comprehension. Out West, I met an Irishman whose father held him up to see O'Connell address the two hundred thousand men at Tara,--literally to see, not to hear him. I said, “But you could not all hear even his voice.” “Oh, no, sir! Only about thirty thousand could hear him; but we all kept as still and silent as if we did.” With magnanimous frankness O'Connell once said, “I never could have held those monster meetings without a crime, without [405] disorder, tumult, or quarrel, except for Father Mathew's aid.” Any man can build a furnace, and turn water into steam,--yes, if careless, make it rend his dwelling in pieces. Genius builds the locomotive, harnesses this terrible power in iron traces, holds it with master-hand in useful limits, and gives it to the peaceable service of man. The Irish people were O'Connell's locomotive; sagacious patience and moderation the genius that built it; Parliament and justice the station he reached.

Every one who has studied O'Connell's life sees his marked likeness to Luther,--the unity of both their lives; their wit; the same massive strength, even if coarse-grained; the ease with which each reached the masses, the power with which they wielded them; the same unrivalled eloquence, fit for any audience; the same instinct of genius that led them constantly to acts which, as Voltaire said, “Foolish men call rash, but wisdom sees to be brave;” the same broad success. But O'Connell had one great element which Luther lacked,--the universality of his sympathy; the far-reaching sagacity which discerned truth afar off, just struggling above the horizon; the loyal, brave, and frank spirit which acknowledged and served it; the profound and rare faith which believed that “the whole of truth can never do harm to the whole of virtue.” From the serene height of intellect and judgment to which God's gifts had lifted him, he saw clearly that no one right was ever in the way of another, that injustice harms the wrongdoer even more than the victim, that whoever puts a chain on another fastens it also on himself. Serenely confident that the truth is always safe, and justice always expedient, he saw that intolerance is only want of faith. He who stifles free discussion secretly doubts whether what he professes to believe is really [406] true. Coleridge says, “See how triumphant in debate and notion O'Connell is! Why? Because he asserts a broad principle, acts up to it, rests his body on it, and has faith in it.”

Coworker with Father Mathew; champion of the dissenters; advocating the substantial principles of the Charter, though not a Chartist; foe of the corn-laws; battling against slavery, whether in India or the Carolinas; the great democrat who in Europe seventy years ago called the people to his side; starting a movement of the people, for the people, by the people,--show me another record as broad and brave as this in the European history of our century. Where is the English statesman, where the Irish leader, who can claim one? No wonder every Englishman hated and feared him! He wounded their prejudices at every point. Whig and Tory, timid Liberal, narrow Dissenter, bitter Radical,all feared and hated this broad brave soul, who dared to follow Truth wherever he saw her, whose toleration was as broad as human nature, and his sympathy as boundless as the sea.

To show you that he never took a leaf from our American gospel of compromise; that he never filed his tongue to silence on one truth, fancying so to help another; that he never sacrificed any race to save even Ireland,--let me compare him with Kossuth, whose only merits were his eloquence and his patriotism. When Kossuth was in Faneuil Hall, he exclaimed, “Here is a flag without a stain, a nation without a crime!” We Abolitionists appealed to him, “O eloquent son of the Magyar, come to break chains! have you no word, no pulse-beat, for four millions of negroes bending under a yoke ten times heavier than that of Hungary?” He answered, “I would forget anybody, I would praise anything, to help Hungary.” [407]

O'Connell never said anything like that. When I was in Naples, I asked Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, a Tory, “Is O'Connell an honest man?” “As honest a man as ever breathed,” said he, and then told me this story: “When, in 1830, O'Connell entered Parliament, the Antislavery cause was so weak that it had only Lushington and myself to speak for it; and we agreed that when he spoke I should cheer him, and when I spoke he should cheer me; and these were the only cheers we ever got. O'Connell came, with one Irish member to support him. A large number of members [I think Buxton said twenty-seven] whom we called the West-India interest, the Bristol party, the slave party, went to him, saying, ‘O'Connell, at last you are in the House, with one helper. If you will never go down to Freemasons' Hall with Buxton and Brougham, here are twenty-seven votes for you on every Irish question. If you work with those Abolitionists, count us always against you.’ ”

It was a terrible temptation. How many a so-called statesman would have yielded! O'Connell said, “Gentlemen, God knows I speak for the saddest people the sun sees; but may my right hand forget its cunning, and my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, if to save Ireland, even Ireland, I forget the negro one single hour!” “From that day,” said Buxton, “Lushington and I never went into the lobby that O'Connell did not follow us.”

Some years afterwards I went into Conciliation Hall where O'Connell was arguing for repeal. He lifted from the table a thousand-pound note sent them from New Orleans, and said to be from the slave-holders of that city. Coming to the front of the platform, he said : “This is a draft of one thousand pounds from the slave-holders of New Orleans, the unpaid wages of the negro. Mr. Treasurer, I suppose the treasury is empty?” The treasurer nodded [408] to show him that it was, and he went on. “Old Ireland is very poor-; but thank God she is not poor enough to take the unpaid wages of anybody. Send it back.” A gentleman from Boston went to him with a letter of introduction, which he sent up to him at his house in Merrion Square. O'Connell came down to the door, as was his wont, put out both his hands, and drew him into his library. “I am glad to see you,” said he; “I am always glad to see anybody from Massachusetts, a free State.” “But,” said the guest, “this is slavery you allude to, Mr. O'Connell. I would like to say a word to you in justification of that institution.” “Very well, sir,--free speech in this house; say anything you please. But before you begin to defend a man's right to own his brother, allow me to step out and lock up my spoons.”

That was the man. The ocean of his philanthropy knew no shore.

And right in this connection, let me read the following despatch:--

The national conference of colored newspaper-men to the O'Connell Celebration, greeting:--

Resolved, That it is befitting a convention of colored men assembled on the centennial anniversary of the birth of the liberator of Ireland and friend of humanity, Daniel O'Connell, to recall with gratitude his eloquent and effective pleas for the freedom of our race; and we earnestly commend his example to our countrymen.


Learn of him, friends, the hardest lesson we ever have set us,--that of toleration. The foremost Catholic of his age, the most stalwart champion of the Church, he was also broadly and sincerely tolerant of every faith. His toleration had no limit and no qualification.

I scorn and scout the word “toleration;” it is an insolent term. No man, properly speaking, tolerates another. I do not tolerate a Catholic, neither does he tolerate me. We are equal, and acknowledge each other's right; that is the correct statement.

That every man should be allowed freely to worship God according to his conscience, that no man's civil rights should be affected by his religious creed, were both cardinal principles of O'Connell. He had no fear that any doctrine of his faith could be endangered by the freest possible discussion.

Learn of him, also, sympathy with every race and every form of oppression. No matter who was the sufferer, or what the form of the injustice,--starving Yorkshire peasant, imprisoned Chartist, persecuted Protestant, or negro slave; no matter of what right, personal or civil, the victim had been robbed; no matter what religious pretext or political juggle alleged “necessity” as an excuse for his oppression; no matter with what solemnities he had been devoted on the altar of slavery, -the moment O'Connell saw him, the altar and the god sank together in the dust, the victim was acknowledged a man and a brother, equal in all rights, and entitled to all the aid the great Irishman could give him.

I have no time to speak of his marvellous success at the bar; of that profound skill in the law which enabled him to conduct such an agitation, always on the verge of illegality and violence, without once subjecting himself or his followers to legal penalty,--an agitation under a code of which Brougham said, “No Catholic could lift [410] his hand under it without breaking the law.” I have no time to speak of his still more remarkable success in the House of Commons. Of Flood's failure there, Grattan had said, “He was an oak of the forest, too old and too great to be transplanted at fifty.” Grattan's own success there was but moderate. The power O'Connell wielded against varied, bitter, and unscrupulous opposition was marvellous. I have no time to speak of his personal independence, his deliberate courage, moral and physical, his unspotted private character, his unfailing hope, the versatility of his talent, his power of tireless work, his ingenuity and boundless resource, his matchless self-possession in every emergency, his ready and inexhaustible wit; but any reference to O'Connell that omitted his eloquence would be painting Wellington in the House of Lords without mention of Torres Vedras or Waterloo.

Broadly considered, his eloquence has never been equalled in modern times, certainly not in English speech. Do you think I am partial? I will vouch John Randolph of Roanoke, the Virginia slave-holder, who hated an Irishman almost as much as he hated a Yankee, himself an orator of no mean level. Hearing O'Connell, he exclaimed, “This is the man, these are the lips, the most eloquent that speak English in my day.” I think he was right. I remember the solemnity of Webster, the grace of Everett, the rhetoric of Choate; I know the eloquence that lay hid in the iron logic of Calhoun; I have melted beneath the magnetism of Sergeant S. Prentiss, of Mississippi, who wielded a power few men ever had. It has been my fortune to sit at the feet of the great speakers of the English tongue on the other side of the ocean. But I think all of them together never surpassed, and no one of them ever equalled, O'Connell. Nature intended him for our [411] Demosthenes. Never since the great Greek, has she sent forth any one so lavishly gifted for his word as a tribune of the people. In the first place, he had a magnificent presence, impressive in bearing, massive like that of Jupiter. Webster himself hardly outdid him in the majesty of his proportions. To be sure, he had not Webster's craggy face, and precipice of brow, nor his eyes glowing like anthracite coal; nor had he the lion roar of Mirabeau. But his presence filled the eye. A small O'Connell would hardly have been an O'Connell at all. These physical advantages are half the battle.

I remember Russell Lowell telling us that Mr. Webster came home from Washington at the time the Whig party thought of dissolution a year or two before his death, and went down to Faneuil Hall to protest; drawing himself up to his loftiest proportion, his brow clothed with thunder, before the listening thousands, he said, “Well, gentlemen, I am a Whig, a Massachusetts Whig, a Faneuil-hall Whig, a revolutionary Whig, a constitutional Whig. If you break the Whig party, sir, where am I to go?” And says Lowell, “We held our breath, thinking where he could go. If he had been five feet three, we should have said, ‘ Who cares where you go?’ ” So it was with O'Connell. There was something majestic in his presence before he spoke; and he added to it what Webster had not, what Clay might have lent,--infinite grace, that magnetism that melts all hearts into one. I saw him at over sixty-six years of age, every attitude was beauty, every gesture grace. You could only think of a greyhound as you looked at him; it would have been delicious to have watched him, if he had not spoken a word. Then he had a voice that covered the gamut. The majesty of his indignation, fitly uttered in tones of superhuman power, made him able to “indict” a nation, in spite of Burke's protest. [412]

I heard him once say, “I send my voice across the Atlantic, careering like the thunder-storm against the breeze, to tell the slave-holder of the Carolinas that God's thunderbolts are hot, and to remind the bondman that the dawn of his redemption is already breaking.” You seemed to hear the tones come echoing back to London from the Rocky Mountains. Then, with the slightest possible Irish brogue, he would tell a story, while all Exeter Hall shook with laughter. The next moment, tears in his voice like a Scotch song, five thousand men wept. And all the while no effort. He seemed only breathing.

As effortless as woodland nooks
Send violets up, and paint them blue.

We used to say of Webster, “This is a great effort;” of Everett, “It is a beautiful effort;” but you never used the word “effort” in speaking of O'Connell. It provoked you that he would not make an effort. I heard him perhaps a score of times, and I do not think more than three times he ever lifted himself to the full sweep of his power.

And this wonderful power, it was not a thunder-storm: he flanked you with his wit, he surprised you out of yourself; you were conquered before you knew it. He was once summoned to court out of the hunting-field, when a young friend of his of humble birth was on trial for his life. The evidence gathered around a hat found by the body of the murdered man, which was recognized as the hat of the prisoner. The lawyers tried to break down the evidence, confuse the testimony, and get some relief from the directness of the circumstances; but in vain, until at last they called for O'Connell. He came in, flung his riding-whip and hat on the table, was told the circumstances, and taking up the hat [413] said to the witness, “Whose hat is this?” “Well, Mr. O'Connell, that is Mike's hat.” --“How do you know it?” “I will swear to it, sir.” --“And did you really find it by the murdered man?” “I did that, sir.” --“But you're not ready to swear that?” “I am, indeed, Mr. O'Connell.” --“Pat, do you know what hangs on your word? A human soul. And with that dread burden, are you ready to tell this jury that the hat, to your certain knowledge, belongs to the prisoner?” “Y-yes, Mr. O'Connell, yes, I am.”

O'Connell takes the hat to the nearest window, and peers into it,--“J-a-m-e-s, James. Now, Pat, did you see that name in the hat?” “I did, Mr. O'Connell.” --“You knew it was there?” “Yes, sir; I read it after I picked it up.” --“No name in the hat, your honor.”

So again in the House of Commons. When he took his seat in the House of 1830, the London Times visited him with its constant indignation, reported his speeches awry, turned them inside out, and made nonsense of them; treated him as the New York Herald used to treat us Abolitionists twenty years ago. So one morning he rose and said, “Mr. Speaker, you know I have never opened my lips in this House, and I expended twenty years of hard work in getting the right to enter it,--I have never lifted my voice in this House, but in behalf of the saddest people the sun shines on. Is it fair play, Mr. Speaker, is it what you call ‘ English fair play’ that the press of this city will not let my voice be heard?” The next day the Times sent him word that, as he found fault with their manner of reporting him, they never would report him at all, they never would print his name in their parliamentary columns. So the next day when prayers were ended, O'Connell rose. Those reporters of the Times who were in the gallery rose also, ostentatiously put away their pencils, folded their arms, and [414] made all the show they could, to let everybody know how it was. Well, you know nobody has any right to be in the gallery during the session, and if any member notices them, the mere notice clears the gallery; only the reporters can stay after that notice. O'Connell rose. One of the members said, “Before the member from Clare opens his speech, let me call his attention to the gallery and the instance of that ‘ passive resistance’ which he is about to preach.” “Thank you,” said O'Connell: “Mr. Speaker, I observe strangers in the gallery.” Of course they left; of course the next day, in the columns of the London Times, there were no parliamentary debates. And for the first time, except in Richard Cobden's case, the London Times cried for quarter, and said to O'Connell, “If you give up the quarrel, we will.”

Later down, when he was advocating the repeal of the land law, when forty or fifty thousand people were gathered at the meeting, O'Connell was sitting at the breakfast-table. The London Times for that year had absolutely disgraced itself,--and that is saying a great deal,--and its reporters, if recognized, would have been torn to pieces. So, as O'Connell was breakfasting, the door opened, and two or three English reporters — Gurney, and among others our well-known friend Russell of Bull Run notoriety-entered the room and said, “Mr. O'Connell, we are the reporters of the Times.” “And,” said Russell, “we dared not enter that crowd.”

“Should n't think you would,” replied O'Connell. “Have you had any breakfast?”

“No, sir,” said he; “we hardly dared to ask for any.”

“Should n't think you would,” answered O'Connell; “sit down here.” So they shared his breakfast. Then he took Bull Run in his own carriage to the place of meeting, sent for a table and seated him by the platform, [415] and asked him whether he had his pencils well sharpened and had plenty of paper, as he intended to make a long speech. Bull Run answered, “Yes.” And O'Connell stood up, and addressed the audience in Irish.

His marvellous voice, its almost incredible power and sweetness, Bulwer has well described:--

Once to my sight that giant form was given,
Walled by wide air, and roofed by boundless heaven.
Beneath his feet the human ocean lay,
And wave on wave rolled into space away.
Methought no clarion could have sent its sound
Even to the centre of the hosts around;
And, as I thought, rose the sonorous swell,
As from some church-tower swings the silvery bell
Aloft and clear, from airy tide to tide
It glided, easy as a bird may glide;
Even to the verge of that vast audience sent,
It played with each wild passion as it went,--
Now stirred the uproar, now the murmur stilled,
And sobs or laughter answered as it willed.

Webster could awe a senate, Everett could charm a college, and Choate could cheat a jury; Clay could magnetize the million, and Corwin lead them captive. O'Connell was Clay, Corwin, Choate, Everett, and Webster in one. Before the courts, logic; at the bar of the senate, unanswerable and dignified; on the platform, grace, wit, and pathos; before the masses, a whole man. Carlyle says, “He is God's own anointed king whose single word melts all wills into his.” This describes O'Connell. Emerson says, “There is no true eloquence, unless there is a man behind the speech.” Daniel O'Connell was listened to because all England and all Ireland knew that there was a man behind the speech,--one who could be neither bought, bullied, nor cheated. He held the masses free but willing subjects in his hand.

He owed this power to the courage that met every new question frankly, and concealed none of his convictions; [416] to an entireness of devotion that made the people feel he was all their own; to a masterly brain that made them sure they were always safe in his hands. Behind them were ages of bloodshed: every rising had ended at the scaffold; even Grattan brought them to 1798. O'Connell said, “Follow me: put your feet where mine have trod, and a sheriff shall never lay hand on your shoulder.” And the great lawyer kept his pledge.

This unmatched, long-continued power almost passes belief. You can only appreciate it by comparison. Let me carry you back to the mob-year of 1835, in this country, when the Abolitionists were hunted; when the streets roared with riot; when from Boston to Baltimore, from St. Louis to Philadelphia, a mob took possession of every city; when private houses were invaded and public halls were burned; press after press was thrown into the river; and Lovejoy baptized freedom with his blood. You remember it. Respectable journals warned the mob that they were playing into the hands of the Abolitionists. Webster and Clay and the staff of Whig statesmen told the people that the truth floated farther on the shouts of the mob than the most eloquent lips could carry it. But law-abiding, Protestant, educated America could not be held back. Neither Whig chiefs nor respectable journals could keep these people quiet. Go to England. When the Reform Bill of 1831 was thrown out from the House of Lords, the people were tumultuous; and Melbourne and Grey, Russell and Brougham, Lansdowne, Holland, and Macaulay, the Whig chiefs, cried out, “Don't violate the law: you help the Tories! Riots put back the bill.” But quiet, sober John Bull, law-abiding, could not do without it. Birmingham was three days in the hands of a mob; castles were burned; Wellington ordered the Scotch Greys to rough-grind their swords as at Waterloo. [417] This was the Whig aristocracy of England. O'Connell had neither office nor title. Behind him were three million people steeped in utter wretchedness, sore with the oppression of centuries, ignored by statute.

For thirty restless and turbulent years he stood in front of them, and said, “Remember, he that commits a crime helps the enemy.” And during that long and fearful struggle, I do not remember one of his followers ever being convicted of a political offence, and during this period crimes of violence were very rare. There is no such record in our history. Neither in classic nor in modern times can the man be produced who held a million of people in his right hand so passive. It was due to the consistency and unity of a character that had hardly a flaw. I do not forget your soldiers, orators, or poets,--any of your leaders. But when I consider O'Connell's personal disinterestedness,--his rare, brave fidelity to every cause his principles covered, no matter how unpopular, or how embarrassing to his main purpose,--that clear, far-reaching vision, and true heart, which, on most moral and political questions, set him so much ahead of his times; his eloquence, almost equally effective in the courts, in the senate, and before the masses; that sagacity which set at naught the malignant vigilance of the whole imperial bar, watching thirty years for a misstep; when I remember that he invented his tools, and then measure his limited means with his vast success, bearing in mind its nature; when I see the sobriety and moderation with which he used his measureless power, and the lofty, generous purpose of his whole life,--I am ready to affirm that he was, all things considered, the greatest man the Irish race ever produced. [418]

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