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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Ireland’s Want

By William Walter Phelps (1839–1894)

[From a Speech at Paterson, N. J., 3 November, 1887.]

IRELAND wants its own legislature and ought to have it. Do not Irishmen know their own needs and wants better than Englishmen? Why should they not be allowed to make the laws which supply them, and why may they not choose the officers who shall govern them? Officers from among themselves, who live in the same atmosphere and whose official fidelity shall be secured by a direct responsibility to those whom they govern. Irishmen do not ask for national independence. That cry was of the olden times. They see that no new nation, however valorous, is able to step into the map of Europe nowadays, and stay there, unless mighty in size and resources, Europe is a series of armed camps, and neutral independence is secure only to those who have large ones. What could Ireland do as a nation against Germany or France, or Russia, or even, in the event of quarrel, against Great Britain herself? But besides, even if Irishmen see a possibility of separate national existence, they do not want it. They know what Ireland has contributed in the past to Great Britain. They know that the treasures of that great empire, the accumulations of centuries, are largely the result of Irish effort, and belong in part to them. Why should they surrender this magnificent heritage? Why should they give their share of British glory to their associates? The eloquence of Sheridan, the learning of Burke, the wit of Swift, the lyres of Goldsmith and Moore; ay! the swords of Nelson and Wellington are but suggestions of what Ireland gave to Great Britain. And she does not purpose to leave that great empire, which her children have so largely helped to develop and adorn. Ireland purposes to stay in the empire to which she belongs, and in it to have her right….

Without Home Rule, Ireland is a constant menace and weakens the imperial arm. Irishmen wait until it shall be raised in foreign war. They do not forget that England’s extremity is Ireland’s opportunity. They lurk ready to seize it. But give them Home Rule, and instead of weakness they bring strength to the imperial arm. When there is no foe in the rear, then there is a united front to the enemy. Besides, there is nothing else to be done. They have tried everything else for seven hundred and fifty years. Let them now try this. They have found that a redcoat may shoot a rebel, but they have found that a redcoat cannot shoot an idea. Let them try the idea of self-government and see the result. They have tried it in Canada and in New South Wales. Why should Ireland be excluded?

By only thirty votes was Home Rule defeated in the British Parliament, and but yesterday two millions of English subjects—more than half of England’s voters—voted with “the Irish rebels.”

Does not such progress seem incredible? And how long can such progress march before reaching consummation, when back of it moves the conscience of the Anglo-Saxon world, incarnate and voiced on this continent by the greatest citizen of the republic, and on the other by the greatest subject of the empire—Blaine and Gladstone? Mankind will not suffer that among the peoples of the earth the Irish shall be the only one that must forever lack a government of the people, for the people, and by the people. The consummation can be retarded only by the Irish themselves, should they, in the dawn of victory, forget the wisdom and self-restraint they have exhibited in the past. They were Irish Catholics, of supreme loyalty to the Mother Church, that gave their loftiest commissions to Protestant patriots like Emmet and Grattan, who give them to-day to Parnell. They are Irish representatives who plead for Irish rights in St. Stephen’s, and without a struggle accept the repeated penalty of exclusion. O’Brien is an Irishman who is taken to jail from a court-room where the judge has just declared his innocence. And there are hundreds like him. It is an English sympathizer with Ireland who is torn from the hustings for what he may say before he says it, while his wife, learning her love of liberty from the grandfather who sang and died for Grecian freedom, swoons at his feet. And there are more of them. They are Irishmen who see and know these facts and those like them. And they live in a land which Macaulay says is superior in natural fertility to any area of equal size in Europe, and see it a land of famine—live in a land of cottages, and see it spotted with homeless women and children; see all this and bear it; bear it though in their stout hearts is the blood which has made the Irish soldier in English, French, or American army the bravest of the brave; bear it and make no sign, except as they cry, “How long, O Lord—how long?” Verily they shall have their reward; Ireland shall be free; her sons shall walk with princes.