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English rulers must bear in mind that they need not hope to settle the question without taking compulsory powers against certain landlords, and that such devices as the extension of the Ulster custom, or the Bright clauses of the Land Act, were not adequate to the demands of the case.”
People were beginning to sbake their heads and their fists, to say that the land agitation was reaching a pitch where it would be necessary for the Government to interfere, and to wish that the agitators would go far enough to get themselves hung or transported, when an incident occurred that greatly increased the excitement–the murder of Lord Mountmorres near his residence, Ebor Hall, in County Galway. On September 25 Lord Mountmorres was found shot dead with six revolver bullets in his body, within a mile of his own house. It was said that he had unhappy relations with his tenantry. The crime produced a great sensation, and the sensation was increased when it transpired that a cottager near the spot where the body was found would not allow it to be brought into his house, that a surgeon might ascertain whether the victim was dead beyond recovery. So great was the excitement occasioned by the event, coming as it did at a time when men's feelings were already strung to a high pitch, that that adjuration which is commonly the sign of perplexed alarm, made itself heard very loudly. The Government were admonished not to lose their heads. With this admonition came two opposite counsels, one for coercive, the other for remedial, legislation.
A meeting under the auspices of the Land League was held on the Sunday after the murder in the immediate neighbourhood of the scene of the crime, but the speakers at this, and for some time at other Land League demonstrations, ignored the existence of outrages. There was one exception; Mr. John Dillon, Mr. Forster's antagonist, protested at one of the meetings against shooting men in the dark from behind hedges; let them meet their adversaries, he said, face to face and in the open day. Meantime the orators of the League continued to denounce landlordism, and Mr. Parnell became still more explicit in his description of what he would consider a satisfactory substitute for the existing land system. At Kilkenny, on October 3, he professed his utter disbelief in the possibility of any satisfactory system of partnership between landIord and tenant being devised. “One of them must go;" and "it was more easy to remove the few than the many.” Partnership between landlord and tenant was an ignis fatuus ; if the Irish farmer pursued it, and insisted upon fixity of tenure at valued rents, they would find that the Government would not consent to appoint Courts of Arbitration for fixing the rents. “If then," he said, “you go on the principle of maintaining or altering the present system without sweeping it away, you will be given, as I said a while ago, an amendment of the Land Act, and you will not get the Government arbitration for the valuation of rent; so that having aroused this gigantic force for the settlement of the land
question, you will find yourselves left in the lurch, having fallen short of the mark of fixity of tenure, and not having obtained the abolition of landlords. Let, then, your power be directed to the purpose of bringing about a natural system of land tenure in Ireland. Do not waste your resources in striving to prop up landlordism, but ask for your right, and your right is that the man who tills the soil may own it."
Mr. Parnell again and again repeated that it was the business of the Land League to agitate, not to formulate demands. There were two sets of Land Reformers, he said at Longford, on the 17th, one representing the low-water, the other the high-water mark of land reform ; the men, on the one hand, who asked the Government to fix the rents which the tenants should pay as a neverceasing tax; and, on the other, those who claimed that the tenants, by paying rack-rents for centuries, had long since paid the landlord the fee simple of the land, and were rather entitled to restitution than bound in justice to pay more. Between these lowwater and high-water marks there was a long interval, and “the National Land League of Ireland had not yet decided where along the line it would halt.” “ The extreme limits of our demands," Mr. Parnell frankly said, “when the time comes must be measured by the result of your exertions this winter."
Immediately after the murder of Lord Mountmorres, there was a rumour that Parliament would be summoned for a short session in November, to consider the disturbed state of Ireland, and the unsatisfactory prospects in the East, where the European Concert threatened to fail when it came to the point of using force to compel the cession of Dulcigno. Thus, at the end of September, the Ministry were confronted by two tremendous difficulties-difficulties, as it happened, in the two fields alluded to in Lord Beaconsfield's manifesto before the general election--Ireland and the East.
A meeting of the Cabinet Council was suddenly summoned for September 30, to consider these two great anxieties.
6 Five months of Liberal rule,” said one of the organs of the Opposition, "and already a Cabinet Council in September.” Commenting on the meeting, the Standard said that an unbidden guest was present, “ the spectre of a mocking failure.” It was remarked that the sitting lasted four hours, and as it was discovered that several Ambassadors were waiting for Lord Granville at the Foreign Office, and that a message from the Turkish Embassy was delivered before the Council rose, the inference was drawn that the crisis in the East was the chief subject of deliberation. The failure of the naval demonstration to extort any admissible concession from the Sultan was generally taken for granted, and curiosity was on tiptoe to discover what would be the next act in the drama. For a week nothing was known for certain, but it was rumoured that the English Government were proposing to the other Powers to make another demonstration before Constantinople itself. While action thus hung in the balance, the publication of a Note from the Porte to the European Powers embodying the “final resolutions” of the Ottoman Government on the Montenegrin Question, the Greek Question, the reforms in Armenia and the Organic Regulation of the European provinces of the Empire, produced a strong current of feeling against the Porte's continued procrastination. This feeling was expressed on the Continent, at Vienna and at Paris, as much as in London.
Then came rumours--rumour was never perhaps at any crisis more busy, more reckless, or more calculating--that the Powers were inclined, after the presentation of the contumacious Note, to accede to the English proposals, which were said to embrace a partial blockade of the Turkish coast in the Ægean. While everybody was wondering whether a European conflagration was imminent, suddenly the Porte gave signs of yielding. The Note of October 11, to the effect that the Sultan would issue immediate orders for the cession of Dulcigno, at the same time hoping that the Naval Demonstration would be given up, gave an immense relief to the tension of the public mind concerning Eastern affairs. It was not till November 26 that the Montenegrins actually entered on possession of Dulcigno, but with the Porte's conditional surrender, the public took for granted that another phase of the Turkish difficulty was at an end, and that the great crisis was postponed. Dulcigno ceased to be a central point in European interest, and only specialists watched the halting progress of events to what the general instinct felt to be a foregone conclusion.
Public feeling in England had enough to give it intense occupation nearer home. With the lull in Eastern affairs, the Irish storm daily increased in violence. The murderers of Lord Mountmorres were not discovered. A huge reward was offered in vain. Conflicting opinions were published as to his relations with his tenantry; but one thing was clear, that the enmity of the neighbourhood was not satisfied even with his death. His dead body had to be escorted by armed policemen, the car-drivers refused to assist in carrying the coffin from the hearse; and the surviving members of his family were persecuted with threatening letters, and denied the smallest service and the commonest necessaries of life. While this crowning outrage was fresh in the public mind, reports of less signal acts of violence came crowding in. Process-servers were hooted, pelted, beaten within an inch of their lives ; care-takers and bailiffs in possession had shots fired into their houses, or were broken in upon by bands of masked men and maltreated; evicted tenants were reinstated; tenants who had dared to pay a rent above Griffith's valuation found their cattle maimed; land agents received threatening letters, and had graves dug before their doors. After a fortnight of such minor misdemeanours, there was another agrarian murder, as a startling variation to the tale of disturbance and insecurity. A landlord, on the Bay of Bantry, was fired at from behind a wall as he was driving home, on October 16, and his car-driver, a man named Downey, shot dead.
The people of England were excited spectators of this state of things. The journals of the Opposition at once raised a cry for coercion. Where is the Government? was the question asked. What measures do the Queen's Ministers mean to take in the face of such unparalleled disorder, such open and avowed defiance of the law? Do they mean to stand by and let ruffianism and organised resistance to the law take its course? A formal demand for protection from the chief objects of the hostility of the Land League orators and the secret instruments of violence added force to these questions. More than a hundred landowners and agents met at Dublin, early in October, and sent a deputation to the Lord Lieutenant. Their proceedings were private ; but it was understood that they laid before the Government facts in proof of the reign of terror that prevailed, and the danger of assassination in which many of them personally stood. Facts of this nature appeared in abundance in the reports of special correspondents, and in letters addressed to the newspapers by victims of popular hatred and persecution. What was to be done? The Government gave no sign; but various opposite policies were pressed upon them. The most extreme of these was the immediate suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act. The Daily Telegraph insisted vehemently upon this measure. “We may not be able,” it said, “ to catch the actual murderers who have already committed crimes, but we might place whole districts of the country, now rampant with ruffianism, under a wholesome reign of terror' of the law.” The St. James's Gazette denounced the “imbecility” of the Government, and warned them that, if they were afraid to ask for the necessary powers, it was their duty to “make way for men of more energetic character, who will not hesitate to uphold the constitution in Ireland even at the cost of proclaiming a practical state of siege.”
On the other hand, in spite of the frightful disorder in Ireland, there was a strong feeling throughout the country, testified to more especially by the provincial journals, that no exceptional coercive measures should be resorted to without an accompanying amendment of the Irish land laws. Lord R. Churchill expressed the opinion that the Irish question was “bosh”; and that nothing was needed but the strong hand. Lord Salisbury, not far bebind the energetic leader of the Fourth Party, attributed all the disorder in Ireland to the electioneering habits of the Liberal party.
66 Real danger or difficulty,” he said, in a speech at Taunton, on the 26th of October, " arises from the practice which, for electoral purposes in recent years, the Liberal party has established of paying violence in legislative coin. The peasantry of Ireland have been told that the measures of 1870 were passed mainly in consequence of the atrocious outrages of which, in 1867 or 1868, certain Irishmen were guilty, and that statement was made by Mr. Gladstone in a manner which conveyed to them an irresistible conviction that the practice of similar outrages would lead to the gain of similar advantages. So long as the Liberal party buy their way to power by
promises of this kind, and when they have gained power feel under the obligation of satisfying in some sort the expectations they have raised, so long will there be no limit to the demands of the ignorant peasantry of Ireland—so long will there be from time to time a renewal of the conditions of a disorder which we now lament.”
To such dashing partisan taunts, it was retorted from the Liberal side that the cause of the aggravated disorder in Ireland was the rejection by the House of Lords of the Disturbance Bill. But on both sides, except among extreme champions, there was a tendency to sink party recrimination, to find the causes of Irish discontent in deeper and more remote circumstances than could fairly be charged upon either party. There was also a pervading impression that the occasion should not be allowed to pass without an attempt being made to grapple with and finally remove the deep-seated causes of Irish discontent. The Times rebuked Lord Salisbury for the party character of his speech, remarking that no one would have supposed, from what he said, that there was any Irish difficulty that could not be removed by the exercise of administrative firmness.
In contradistinction to the extreme advocates of force and nothing but force, coercion and nothing but coercion, there was another body of extremists, with their exponents on the platform and in the press, who would not hear of coercion, in the sense of exceptional measures of repression, on any conditions. What was bad in the law of Ireland—and they traced all Ireland's miseries to bad laws—ought to be amended, but the guarantees for the liberty of the subject ought to be held sacred; and it was dangerous to tamper with them, under whatever provocation. Moderate politicians, between these two extremes, were content to urge that exceptional measures of coercion, such as the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, should not be resorted to till every means of maintaining order within the existing powers of the Government had been tried and had failed. Extraordinary powers should not be sought except as a last resort. And side by side with this truism of English politics lay a conviction that extraordinary powers should not be obtained and exercised in the case of Ireland, unless the request for them were accompanied by proposals for a reform of the Irish land laws. That remedial measures should accompany coercive measures, was the doctrine preached from nearly every Liberal newspaper office throughout the kingdom; and moderate politicians of all parties seemed to be convinced at least that coercion alone without a change in the law, whether simultaneous or subsequent, would be of no avail.
But among those who were agreed as to the principles on which the crisis should be met, there was room for considerable difference of opinion as regarded time and circumstance of application. Supposing Her Majesty's Ministers, who gave no sign of their intentions, to be convinced that there must be remedial measures as well as coercive measures, there were various courses open to them. They might assume extraordinary powers in the emergency, and ask Par