The System of Terrorism

Justin McCarthy
Chapter VIII | Start of Chapter

There had grown up in Ireland during many generations a sort of rivalry among the official classes in the discovery of new offences against the law, by means of which the whole power of the State might be brought to bear upon some particular class whose existence was supposed to be a trouble to the Government. The State employed in this way a regular system of terrorism against those who were presumed to be wanting in loyalty, so that an indiscriminate application of penalties might compel all such persons to desist, for the sake of their own safety, from professing hostility to any Government measures. Chesterfield soon made it apparent that no such practices could win reward or even toleration from him. The official who invented a false charge, or who assumed that a charge must be well founded because it had been made in the name of the law, would find that he had to deal with a Lord Lieutenant who insisted that the country must be governed on the principles of legality and justice.

Lord Chesterfield did not follow the example of most of his predecessors and call for new troops, in order to put down by force every popular movement. On the contrary, he actually announced that he could do with fewer troops, and he sent some of the soldiers quartered in Ireland to help in maintaining the action of the British Government on the European Continent. The Irish soon began to appreciate the blessings of the change. The Irish Catholic found that although no penal law against religion had been repealed, it was quite safe for him to practise his religion without dread of the informer, the prison-house, or the gibbet. When some ardent loyalists of his own class endeavoured to alarm Chesterfield by stories of threatened insurrections, he generally bewildered his informant by flashes of his characteristic and satirical humour.