Whig Professions of Impartiality - The Last Conquest of Ireland (Perhaps)

John Mitchel
Author’s Edition (undated)

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the Irish never believed English "law" to be justice; but invariably found that "law" was at one side and justice at the other; which indeed they experience until this day. For some generations after Spenser's time, and during the whole period of the penal laws, the British Government solved the difficulty by simply excluding Irish Catholics from juries. But Catholic Emancipation came; and liberal professions (especially from the Whigs) of a desire to administer law impartially. You have already had occasion to see how these professions were carried out on the trial of O'Connell. In the cases of O'Brien and Meagher, the Crown officers had admitted one Irish Repealer on each jury, and failed.

It was manifest that the Whig theory would not work; and in my case it was resolved that there must be no risk even of possible failure. Yet the Whig Ministers were extremely reluctant to part with their reputation for impartiality (which reputation, however, was false); and, accordingly, only two days before my "pretended trial," Lord John Russell, in answer to questions in the House of Commons, declared that he had written to "his noble friend" (Lord Clarendon), that "he trusted there would not arise any charge of any kind of unfairness as to the composition of the juries; as, for his own part, he would rather see those parties acquitted, than that there should be any such unfairness."

Lord Clarendon, however, informed him that, for this once, he could not afford to adhere to the Whig maxims,—that a conviction must be had, per fas aut nefas. Not that the liberal and conciliatory Whigs would openly renounce their honest policy; on the contrary, they would pursue it more steadfastly than ever; but I must be out of the way first. His lordship counselled his colleagues in this matter, as Ulysses counselled Neoptolemus, when the business was to procure the arms from Philoctetes under false pretences:—

"I know, indeed, that it is not your natural disposition
To speak falsely, or to contrive injustice;
But—it is sweet to be the winner—
Do it this once, and afterwards we will be honest."

During the two weeks that I awaited my trial, it became well known that the "Government" would pack my jury most carefully; and our Dublin Confederate Clubs were becoming violently excited. The boldest of them were for making an attack on Newgate prison; letting the struggle commence there and then; cutting the gas-pipes on some dark night; precipitating the clubs on Castle, barracks, and prisons; and either clearing out our metropolis of the English enemy, or perishing amidst its ruins and cinders. This was the right counsel. I thought so then; and, after many ...continue reading »

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