A New Coercion Bill - The Last Conquest of Ireland (Perhaps)

John Mitchel
Author’s Edition (undated)

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employ their forces in this way all over the island,—to lift and carry the whole harvest of Ireland, and that over roads broken up, and bridges broken down to obstruct them, and with the daily risk of meeting bands of able-bodied paupers to dispute their passage,—the service would soon have been wholly demoralized, and after three months of such employment, the remnant of the army might have been destroyed.

Parliament was called hastily together. Her Majesty told the Houses "that there were atrocious crimes in Ireland,—a spirit of insubordination, an organized resistance to legal rights;" and of course, that she required "additional powers" for the protection of life,—that is, high life.

The meaning of this was a new Coercion Bill. It was carried without delay, and with unusual unanimity; and it is instructive here to note the difference between a Whig in power and a Whig out. When Sir Robert Peel had proposed his Coercion Bill, the year before, it had been vehemently opposed by Lord John Russell and Lord Grey. It was time to have done with coercion, they had said; Ireland had been "misgoverned;" there had been too many Arms Acts and Curfew Acts; it was "justice " that was wanted now, and they, the Whigs, were the men to dispense it. Earl Grey, speaking of the last Coercion Bill (it was brought in by the other party), said emphatically (see debate in the Lords, March 23rd, 1846), "that measures of severity had been tried long enough;" and repeated with abhorrence, the list of coercive measures passed since 1800, all without effect; now, since 1800, the Habeas Corpus Act was suspended, the Act for the Suppression of the Rebellion being still in force; how they were continued in 1801; continued in 1804; how the Insurrection Act was passed in 1807, which gave the Lord Lieutenant full and legal power to place any district under martial law, to suspend trial by jury, and make it a transportable offence to be out of doors from sunset to sunrise;—how this Act remained in force till 1810;—how it was renewed in 1814—continued in '15, '16, '17—revived in '22, and continued through '23, '24, and '25;—how another Insurrection Act was needed in 1833—was renewed in '34,—and expired but five years ago. "And again," continued this Whig, "again in 1846, we are called on to renew it!" Horrible!—revolting to a Liberal out of place! "We must look farther," continued Earl Grey—vociferating from the Opposition bench—"we must look to the root of the evil; the state of the law and the habits of the people, in respect to the occupation of land, are almost at the roots of the disorder;—it was undeniable that the clearance system pre- ...continue reading »

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