This is the first of three pamphlets in which I propose to develop the contention put forward in Ghosts, the whole forming a continuous argument. The further pamphlets of the series will be entitled The Spiritual Nation and The Sovereign People, respectively.
P. H. PEARSE.
ST. ENDA’S COLLEGE, RATHFARNHAM, 1st February, 1916.
A .PDF copy of the article may be downloaded here (featured image is of Theobald Wolfe Tone).
The Separatist Idea
In stating a little while ago the Irish definition of freedom, I said that it would be well worth while to examine that definition in its breadth and depth, in its connotations as well as in its denotations, contenting myself for the moment with making clear its essential idea of Independence, Separation, a distinct and unfettered national existence. And I said that I proposed to do this in a sequel. Such a sequel is necessary, for, while the statement that national freedom means a distinct and unfettered national existence is a true and complete statement of the nature of national freedom, it is not a sufficient revelation of the minds that have developed the conception of freedom among us Irish, not sufficiently quick with their thought nor sufficiently passionate with their desire. Freedom is so splendid a thing that one cannot worthily state it in the terms of a definition; one has to write it in some flaming symbol or to sing it in music riotous with the uproar of heaven. A Danton and a Mitchel can speak more adequately of freedom than a Voltaire and a Burke, for they have drunk more deeply of that wine with which God inebriates the votaries of vision. But even the sublimest things, the Trinity and the Incarnation, can be stated in terms of philosophy, and it is needful to do this now and then, though such a statement in no wise affects the spiritual fact which one either feels or does not feel. So, it is sometimes necessary to state what nationality is, what freedom, though one’s statement may not reveal the awful beauty of his nation’s soul to a single man or move a single village to put up its barricade.
The purpose, then, of such statements? At least they define the truth, and enable men to see who holds the truth and who hugs the falsehood. For there is an absolute truth in such matters, and the truth is ascertainable. The truth is old, and it has been handed down to us by our fathers. It is not a new thing, devised to meet the exigencies of a situation. That is the definition of an expedient.
Now, the truth as to what a nation’s nationality is, what a nation’s freedom, is not to be found in the statute-book of the nation’s enemy. It is to be found in the books of the nation’s fathers.
I have named Tone and Davis and Lalor and Mitchel as the four among us moderns who have chiefly developed the conception of an Irish nation. Others, I have said, have for the most part only interpreted and illustrated what has been taught by these; these are the Fathers and the rest are just their commentarists. And I need not repeat here my reasons for naming no other with these unless the other be Parnell, whom I name tentatively as the man who saw most deeply and who spoke most splendidly for the Irish nation since the great seers and speakers. I go on to examine what these have taught of Irish freedom. And first as to Tone. He stands first in point of time, and first in point of greatness. Indeed, he is, as I believe, the greatest man of our nation; the greatest-hearted and the greatest-minded.
We have to consider here Tone the thinker rather than Tone the man of action. The greatest of our men of action since Hugh O’Neill, he is the greatest of all our political thinkers. His greatness, both as a man and as a thinker, consists in his sheer reality. There is no froth of rhetoric, no dilution of sentimentality in Tone; he has none even of the noble oratoric quality of a Mitchel. A man of extraordinarily deep emotion, he nevertheless thought with relentless logic, and his expression in exposition or argument is always the due and inevitable garb of his thought. He was a great visionary; but like all the great visionaries, he had a firm grip upon realities, he was fundamentally sane.
It is necessary at times to insist on Tone’s intellectual austerity, because the man’s humanity was so gracious that his human side constantly overshadows, for us as for his contemporaries, his grave intellectual side. Most men of his greatness are loved at best by a few, feared or disliked or mistrusted by the many. Tone was one of the extremely rare great men whose greatness is crowned by those gifts of humility and sweetness that compel affection. Some men are misunderstood because they are disliked; a few men are in danger of being misunderstood because they are loved. If the greatest thing in Tone was his heroic soul, the soul that was gay in death and defeat, the second greatest thing was his austere and piercing intellect. That intellect has dominated Irish political thought for over a century. It has given us our political definitions and values. Constantly we refer doctrines and leaders and policies to its standards, measuring them by the mind of Tone as an American measures men and policies by the minds that shaped the Declaration of Independence. Tone’s mind was in a very true sense a revolutionary mind. The spokesmen of the French Revolution itself did not base things more fundamentally on essential right and justice than Tone did, did not pierce through outer strata to a firmer bedrock than he found. And it was an original mind. Influenced no doubt by contemporary minds, and responsive to every thought-wave that vibrated in either hemisphere, Tone for the most part worked out his own political system in his own way. He did not inherit or merely accept his principles; he thought himself into them.
Tone’s first political utterance was a pamphlet in defence of the Whig Club, entitled A Review of the last Session of Parliament (1790). Of this pamphlet he writes in his Autobiography:
. . . Though I was very far from entirely approving the system of the Whig Club, and much less their principles and motives, yet, seeing them at the time the best constituted political body which the country afforded, and agreeing with most of their positions, though my own private opinions went infinitely farther, I thought I could venture on their defence without violating my consistency.
The pamphlet contains no definitely Separatist teaching. Before the end of the year, however, Tone had found his voice. It is a Separatist that speaks in The Spanish War (1790), but a cautious Separatist, one who is feeling his way. Tone himself describes the expansion of his views which had taken place between the publication of his first and his second pamphlets:
A closer examination into the history of my native country had very considerably extended my views, and, as I was sincerely and honestly attached to her interests, I soon found reason not to regret that the Whigs had not thought me an object worthy of their cultivation. I made speedily what was to me a great discovery, though I might have found it in Swift and Molyneux, that the influence of England was the radical vice of our Government, and consequently that Ireland would never be either free, prosperous, or happy until she was independent, and that independence was unattainable whilst the connection with England existed.
On the appearance of a rupture with Spain, I wrote a pamphlet to prove that Ireland was not bound by the declaration of war, but might, and ought, as an independent nation, to stipulate for a neutrality. In examining this question, I advanced the question of separation, with scarcely any reserve, much less disguise; but the public mind was by no means so far advanced as I was, and my pamphlet made not the slightest impression.
The pamphlet, in fact, tended to prove the impossibility of Grattan’s constitution, i.e., of the co-existence of a British connection with a sovereign Irish Parliament. It did not propound this in so many words, but the logical conclusion from its extraordinarily able and subtle argument is that no ‘half-way house’ is possible as a permanent solution of the issue between Ireland and England. There were and are only two alternatives: an enslaved Ireland and a free Ireland. A ‘dual monarchy’ is, in the nature of things, only a temporary expedient.
In 1790 Tone met Thomas Russell. Theirs was the most memorable of Irish friendships. It was in conversations and correspondence with Russell that Tone’s political ideas reached their maturity. When he next speaks it is with plenary meaning and clear definition. Towards the end of 1790 he made his first attempt in political organisation. He founded a club of seven or eight members ’eminent for their talents and patriotism and who had already more or less distinguished themselves by their literary productions.’ It was a failure, and the failure satisfied Tone that ‘men of genius, to be of use, must not be collected in numbers.’ In 1791 Russell went to Belfast. An attempt of Russell’s to induce the Belfast Volunteers to adopt a declaration in favour of Catholic emancipation, which Tone had prepared at his request, was unsuccessful. Russell wrote to Tone an account of the discussion, and, says Tone:
It immediately set me thinking more seriously than I had yet done upon the state of Ireland. I soon formed my theory, and on that theory I have invariably acted ever since.
To subvert the tyranny of our execrable Government, to break the connection with England, the never-failing source of all our political evils, and to assert the independence of my country – these were my objects. To unite the whole people of Ireland, to abolish the memory of all past dissensions, and to substitute the common name of Irishman in place of the denominations of Protestant, Catholic, and Dissenter – these were my means.
I have said that I hold all Irish nationalism to be implicit in these words. Davis was to make explicit certain things here implicit, Lalor certain other things. But the Credo is here: ‘I believe in One Irish Nation and that Free.’
Tone had convinced himself as to the end and the means. And now for work:
I sat down accordingly, and wrote a pamphlet addressed to the Dissenters, and which I entitled An Argument on behalf of the Catholics of Ireland, the object of which was to convince them that they and the Catholics had but one common interest and one common enemy; that the depression and slavery of Ireland was produced and perpetuated by the divisions existing between them, and that, consequently, to assert the independence of their country, and their own individual liberties, it was necessary to forget all former feuds, to consolidate the entire strength of the whole nation, and to form for the future but one people.
This pamphlet, signed ‘A Northern Whig’, gave Tone his place in Irish politics. The Catholic leaders approached him and commenced the connection which led ultimately to his selection as their agent; the Volunteers of Belfast elected him an honorary member of their corps. He was soon afterwards invited to Belfast, where he founded, with Russell, Neilson, the Simmses, Sinclair, and MacCabe, the first club of United Irishmen. Tone wrote for the United Irishmen the following declaration:
In the present great era of reform when unjust governments are falling in every quarter of Europe; when religious persecution is compelled to abjure her tyranny over conscience; when the Rights of Man are ascertained in Theory and that Theory substantiated by Practice; when antiquity can no longer defend absurd and oppressive forms against the common sense and common interests of mankind; when all government is acknowledged to originate from the people, and to be so far only obligatory as it protects their rights and promotes their welfare; we think it our duty as Irishmen to come forward and state what we feel to be our heavy grievance, and what we know to be its effectual remedy.
We have no National Government; we are ruled by Englishmen and the servants of Englishmen, whose object is the interest of another country; whose instrument is corruption; whose strength is the weakness of Ireland; and these men have the whole of the power and patronage of the country as means to seduce and subdue the honesty and the spirit of her representatives in the legislature. Such an extrinsic power, acting with uniform force in a direction too frequently opposite to the true line of our obvious interests, can be resisted with effect solely by unanimity, decision, and spirit in the people, qualities which may be exerted most legally, constitutionally, and efficaciously by that great measure essential to the prosperity and freedom of Ireland – an equal Representation of all the People in Parliament…
The declaration was not openly Separatist. Tone, however, avows that, while not yet definitely a republican, his ultimate goal even as early as 1791 was Separation: the union of Irishmen was to be but a means to an end. Commenting on the foundation (9th November, 1791) of the Dublin Club of United Irishmen, in which the republican Tandy co-operated with him, Tone writes:
For my own part, I think it right to mention that, at this time the establishment of a Republic was not the immediate object of my speculations. My object was to secure the independence of my country under any form of government, to which I was led by a hatred of England so deeply rooted in my nature that it was rather an instinct than a principle. I left to others, better qualified for the inquiry, the investigation and merits of the different forms of government, and I contented myself with labouring on my own system, which was luckily in perfect coincidence as to its operation with that of those men who viewed the question on a broader and juster scale than I did at the time I mention.
Thus, Tone in November 1791 had not yet settled his views on abstract theories of government, but on the practical business of separating Ireland from England his resolve was fixed and unshakable.
In June 1791 there had been issued a secret Manifesto to the Friends of Freedom in Ireland which is attributed to Tone in collaboration with Neilson and others. Tone himself makes no reference to this document in his Autobiography. If it is really his it is the nearest approach to a formulation of the theory of freedom which we have from the mind of this essentially practical statesman. Whether it be Tone’s or another’s, it is one of the noblest utterances of the age and it is a document of primary importance in the history of Ireland. It may be described as the first manifesto of modern Irish democracy. It bases the Irish claim to freedom on the bedrock foundation of human rights:
This society is likely to be a means the most powerful for the promotion of a great end. What end? The Rights of Man in Ireland. The greatest happiness of the greatest numbers in this island, the inherent and indefeasible claims of every free nation to rest in this nation – the will and the power to be happy, to pursue the common weal as an individual pursues his private welfare, and to stand in insulated independence, an imperatorial people.
The greatest happiness of the Greatest Number. – On the rock of this principle let this society rest; by this let it judge and determine every political question, and whatever is necessary for this end let it not be accounted hazardous, but rather our interest, our duty, our glory, and our common religion: The Rights of Man are the Rights of God, and to vindicate the one is to maintain the other. We must be free in order to serve Him whose service is perfect freedom. . . ‘Dieu et mon Droit’ (God and my right) is the motto of kings. ‘Dieu et la liberté’ (God and liberty), exclaimed Voltaire when he beheld Franklin, his fellow-citizen of the world. ‘Dieu et nos Droits’ (God and our rights) – let every Irishman cry aloud to each other the cry of mercy, of justice, and of victory.
The Rights of Man in Ireland is almost an adequate definition of Irish freedom. And the historic claim of Ireland has never been more worthily stated than in these words:
The inherent and indefeasible claims of every free nation to rest in this nation – the will and the power to be happy, to pursue the common weal as an individual pursues his private welfare, and to stand in insulated independence, an imperatorial people.
The deep and radical nature of Tone’s revolutionary work, the subtlety and power of the man himself, cannot be grasped unless it is clearly remembered that this is the secret manifesto of the movement of which the carefully constitutional declaration of the United Irishmen is the public manifesto. Tone himself, in a letter to Russell at the beginning of 1792, admits his ulterior designs while at the same time laying stress on the necessity of caution in public utterances. Referring to the declaration of the United Irishmen, he says:
The foregoing contains my true and sincere opinion of the state of this country, so far as in the present juncture it may be advisable to publish it. They certainly fall short of the truth, but truth itself must sometimes condescend to temporise. My unalterable opinion is that the bane of Irish prosperity is in the influence of England: I believe that influence will ever be extended while the connection between the countries continues; nevertheless, as I know that opinion is, for the present, too hardy, though a very little time may establish it universally, I have not made it a part of the resolutions, I have only proposed to set up a reformed parliament, as a barrier against that mischief which every honest man that will open his eyes must see in every instance overbears the interest of Ireland: I have not said one word that looks like a wish for separation, though I give it to you and your friends as my most decided opinion that such an event would be a regeneration to this country.
In 1792 Tone became agent to the General Committee of the Catholics. Before the end of the year his dream of a union between the Catholics and the Dissenters was an accomplished fact. In December the Catholic Convention met. Catching Tone’s spirit, it demanded complete emancipation. The Government proposed a compromise to the leaders. Tone was against any compromise, but the Catholic leaders yielded. ‘Merchants, I see, make bad revolutionists’, commented Tone. The Act of 1793, admitting Catholics to the Parliamentary franchise, marks the end of Tone’s ‘constitutional’ period. He pressed on towards Separation, adopting revolutionary methods. The United Irishmen were reorganised as a secret association, with ‘a Republican Government and Separation from England’ as its aims. In 1795 Tone, compromised by his relations with Jackson, left Ireland for America. It was out of settled policy that at this stage he chose exile rather than a contest with the Government. He had already conceived the idea of appealing for help to the French Republic. Shortly before he left Dublin he went out with Russell to Rathfarnham, to see Thomas Addis Emmet.
As we walked together into town I opened my plan to them both. I told them that I considered my compromise with Government to extend no further than the banks of the Delaware, and that the moment I landed I was free to follow any plan which might suggest itself to me, for the emancipation of my country. . .I then proceeded to tell them that my intention was, immediately on my arrival in Philadelphia, to wait on the French Minister, to detail to him, fully, the situation of affairs in Ireland, to endeavour to obtain a recommendation to the French Government, and, if I succeeded so far, to leave my family in America, and to set off instantly for Paris, and apply, in the name of my country, for the assistance of France to enable us to assert our independence.
To the fulfilment of this purpose Tone devoted the three years of life that remained to him. He landed in France in 1796. The notes in his Journal of his conferences with the representatives of the French Government and the two masterly memorials which he submitted to the Executive Directory remain the fullest and most practical statement, not only of the necessity of Separation, but of the means by which Separation is to be attained, that has been made by any Irishman. In the concluding passage of his second memorial Tone sums up as follows:
I submit to the wisdom of the French Government that England is the implacable, inveterate, irreconcilable enemy of the Republic, which never can be in perfect security while that nation retains the dominion of the sea; that, in consequence, every possible effort should be made to humble her pride and to reduce her power; that it is in Ireland, and in Ireland only, that she is vulnerable – a fact of the truth of which the French Government cannot be too strongly impressed; that by establishing a free Republic in Ireland they attach to France a grateful ally whose cordial assistance, in peace and war, she might command, and who, from situation and produce, could most essentially serve her: that at the same time they cut off from England her most firm support, in losing which she is laid under insuperable difficulties in recruiting her army, and especially in equipping, victualling, and manning her navy, which, unless for the resources she drew from Ireland, she would be absolutely unable to do; that by these means – and, suffer me to add, by these means only – her arrogance can be effectually humbled, and her enormous and increasing power at sea reduced within due bounds – an object essential, not only to France, but to all Europe; that it is at least possible, by the measures mentioned, that not only her future resources, as to her navy, may be intercepted and cut off at the fountain head, but that a part of her fleet may be actually transferred to the Republic of Ireland; that the Irish people are united and prepared, and want but the means to begin: that, not to speak of the policy or the pleasure of revenge in humbling a haughty and implacable rival, it is in itself a great and splendid act of generosity, worthy of the Republic, to rescue a whole nation from a slavery under which they have groaned for six hundred years; that it is for the glory of France, after emancipating Holland and receiving Belgium into her bosom, to establish one more free Republic in Europe; that it is for her interest to cut off for ever, as she now may do, one-half of the resources of England, and lay her under extreme difficulties in the employment of the other. For all these reasons, in the name of justice, of humanity, of freedom, of my own country, and of France herself, I supplicate the Directory to take into consideration the state of Ireland; and by granting her the powerful aid and protection of the Republic, to enable her at once to vindicate her liberty, to humble her tyrant, and to assume that independent station among the nations of the earth for which her soil, her productions and her position, her population and her spirit have designed her.
Finally – after Bantry Bay, the Texel, and Lough Swilly – Tone before his judges thus testified to his faith as a Separatist:
I mean not to give you the trouble of bringing judicial proof to convict me, legally, of having acted in hostility to the Government of his Britannic Majesty in Ireland. I admit the fact. From my earliest youth I have regarded the connection between Ireland and Great Britain as the curse of the Irish nation, and felt convinced that, whilst it lasted, this country could never be free nor happy. My mind has been confirmed in this opinion by the experience of every succeeding year, and the conclusions which I have drawn from every fact before my eyes. In consequence, I determined to apply all the powers which my individual efforts could move in order to separate the two countries.
That Ireland was not able, of herself, to throw off the yoke, I knew. I therefore sought for aid wherever it was to be found. In honourable poverty I rejected offers which, to a man in my circumstances, might be considered highly advantageous. I remained faithful to what I thought the cause of my country, and sought in the French Republic an ally to rescue three millions of my countrymen from. . .
Here the prisoner was interrupted by the President of the Court-Martial.
In order to complete this brief study of Tone’s teaching it is necessary to consider him as a democrat. And Tone, the greatest of modern Irish Separatists, is the first and greatest of modern Irish democrats. It was Tone that said:
Our independence must be had at all hazards. If the men of property will not support us, they must fall: we can support ourselves by the aid of that numerous and respectable class of the community – the men of no property.
In this glorious appeal to Caesar modern Irish democracy has its origin.
I have already quoted the secret Manifesto to the Friends of Freedom, attributed to Tone, in which the right to national freedom is made to rest on its true basis, the right to individual freedom. The abstract theory of freedom was not further developed by Tone, who devoted his life to the pursuit of a practical object rather than to the working out of a philosophy. When, however, any question arose which involved the relations of a democracy and an aristocracy, of the people and the gentry (‘as they affect to call themselves’), of the ‘men of no property’ and the ‘men of property,’ Tone’s decision was instant and unerring. The people must rule; if the aristocracy make common cause with the people, so much the better; if not, woe to the aristocracy. One passage from his Journal, under date April 27th, 1798, says all that need be said as to the practical question of dealing with a hostile aristocracy in a national revolution:
What miserable slaves are the gentry of Ireland! The only accusation brought against the United Irishmen by their enemies, is that they wish to break the connection with England, or, in other words, to establish the independence of their country – an object in which surely the men of property are most interested. Yet the very sound of independence seems to have terrified them out of all sense, spirit, or honesty. If they had one drop of Irish blood in their veins, one grain of true courage or genuine patriotism in their hearts, they should have been the first to support this great object; the People would have supported them; the English government would never have dared to attempt the measures they have since triumphantly pursued, and continue to pursue; our Revolution would have been accomplished without a shock, or perhaps one drop of blood spilled; which now can succeed, if it does succeed, only by all the calamities of a most furious and sanguinary contest: for the war in Ireland, whenever it does take place, will not be an ordinary one. The armies will regard each other not as soldiers, but as deadly enemies. Who, then, are to blame for this? The United Irishmen, who set the question afloat, or the English government and their partisans, the Irish gentry, who resist it? If independence be good for a country as liberty for an individual, the question will be soon decided. Why does England so pertinaciously resist our independence? Is it for love of us – is it because she thinks we are better as we are? That single argument, if it stood alone, should determine every honest Irishman.
But, it will be said, the United Irishmen extend their views farther; they go now to a distribution of property, and an agrarian law. I know not whether they do or no. I am sure in June 1795 when I was forced to leave the country, they entertained no such ideas. If they have since taken root among them, the Irish gentry may accuse themselves. Even then they made themselves parties to the business: not content with disdaining to hold communications with the United Irishmen, they were among the foremost of their persecutors; even those who were pleased to denominate themselves patriots were more eager to vilify, and, if they could, to degrade them, than the most devoted and submissive slaves of the English Government. What wonder if the leaders of the United Irishmen, finding themselves not only deserted, but attacked by those who, for every reason, should have been their supporters and fellow-labourers, felt themselves no longer called upon to observe any measures with men only distinguished by the superior virulence of their persecuting spirit? If such men, in the issue, lose their property, they are themselves alone to blame, by deserting the first and most sacred of duties – the duty to their country. They have incurred a wilful forfeiture by disdaining to occupy the station they might have held among the People, and which the People would have been glad to see them fill; they left a vacancy to be seized by those who had more courage, more sense, and more honesty; and not only so, but by this base and interested desertion they furnished their enemies with every argument of justice, policy, and interest, to enforce the system of confiscation.
The best that can be said in palliation of the conduct of the English party, is that they are content to sacrifice the liberty and independence of their country to the pleasure of revenge, and their own personal security. They see Ireland only in their rent rolls, their places, their patronage, and their pensions. There is not a man among them who, in the bottom of his soul, does not feel that he is a degraded being in comparison of those whom he brands with the names of incendiaries and traitors. It is this stinging reflection which, among other powerful motives, is one of the most active in spurring them on to revenge. Their dearest interests, their warmest passions, are equally engaged. Who can forgive the man that forces him to confess that he is a voluntary slave, and that he has sold for money everything that should be most precious to an honourable heart? That he has trafficked in the liberties of his children and his own, and that he is hired and paid to commit a daily parricide on his country? Yet these are the charges which not a man of that infamous caste can deny to himself before the sacred tribunal of his own conscience. At least the United Irishmen, as I have already said, have a grand, a sublime object in view. Their enemies have not as yet ventured, in the long catalogue of their accusations, to insert the charge of interested motives. Whilst that is the case they may be feared and abhorred, but they can never be despised; and I believe there are few men who do not look upon contempt as the most insufferable of all human evils. Can the English faction say as much? In vain do they crowd together, and think by their numbers to disguise or lessen their infamy. The public sentiment, the secret voice of their own corrupt hearts, has already condemned them. They see their destruction rapidly approaching, and they have the consciousness that when they fall no honest man will pity them. They shall perish like their own dung; those who have seen them shall say, Where are they?
Tone did not propose any general confiscation of private property other than the property of Englishmen in Ireland, and this only after proclamation to the English people, as distinct from the English Government, stating the grounds of the action of the Irish nation and declaring their earnest desire to avoid the effusion of blood; if, after such proclamation, the English people supported the English Government in war upon Ireland, Tone held that the confiscation of English property ‘would then be an act of strict justice, as the English people would have made themselves parties to the war.’ Emmet’s proposals in 1803 are a fuller and more detailed expression of the mind of revolutionary Ireland on the subject of property. The first decree drafted by Emmet for his Provisional Government was that ‘tithes are forever abolished, and church lands are the property of the nation’ ; the second laid down that ‘from this date all transfers of landed property are prohibited, each person paying his rent until the National Government is established, the national will declared, and the courts of justice be organised ‘; the third made a like provision with regard to the transfer of bonds and securities; and the fifth decreed the confiscation of the property of Irishmen in the Militia, Yeomanry, or Volunteer corps who, after fourteen days, should be found in arms against the Republic. When we speak of men like Tone and Emmet as ‘visionaries’ and ‘idealists’ we regard only one side of their minds. Both were extraordinarily able men of affairs, masters of all the details of the national, social, and economic positions in their day; and both would have been ruthless in revolution, shedding exactly as much blood as would have been necessary to their purpose. Both, however, were Nationalists first, and revolutionists only in so far as revolution was essential to the establishment of the nation. ‘We war not against property’, said Emmet in his proclamation, ‘we war against no religious sect, we war not against past opinions or prejudices – we war against English dominion.’
One is now in a position to sum up Tone’s teaching in a series of propositions:
The Irish Nation is One.
The Irish Nation, like all Nations, has an indefeasible right to Freedom.
Freedom denotes Separation and Sovereignty.
The right to National Freedom rests upon the right to Personal Freedom, and true National Freedom guarantees true Personal Freedom.
The object of Freedom is the pursuit of the happiness of the Nation and of the individuals that compose the Nation.
Freedom is necessary to the happiness and prosperity of the Nation. In the particular case of Ireland, Separation from England is necessary not only to the happiness and prosperity but almost to the continued existence of Ireland, inasmuch as the interests of Ireland and England are fundamentally at variance, and while the two nations are connected England must necessarily predominate.
The National Sovereignty implied in National Freedom holds good both externally and internally, i.e., the sovereign rights of the Nation are good as against all other nations and good as against all parts of the Nation. Hence –
The Nation has jurisdiction over lives and property within the Nation.
The People are the Nation.
All this Tone taught, not in the dull pages of a treatise, but in the living phrases that dropped from him in his conversation, in his correspondence, in his diaries, in his impassioned pleas for his nation to the Executive Directory of France. Some of the greatest teachers have been literary men only incidentally; but their teaching has none the less the splendour of great literary utterance. The masters of literature do not always label themselves. When a great soul utters a great truth have we not always great literature? That is why the true gospels of the world are always true literature. Those who have preached the divine worth of faith and justice and charity and freedom have done so in glorious and imperishable words: and the reason is that God speaks through them.
That God spoke to Ireland through Tone and through those who, after Tone, have taken up his testimony, that Tone’s teaching and theirs is true and great and that no other teaching as to Ireland has any truth or worthiness at all, is a thing upon which I stake all my mortal and all my immortal hopes. And I ask the men and women of my generation to stake their mortal and immortal hopes with me.