CHAPTER XII. THE LATER IRISH PARTY - ITS CHARACTER AND COMPOSITION
To enable our readers to have a clearer understanding of all that has gone before and all that is to follow, I think it well at this stage to give a just impression of the Party, of its personnel, its method of working and its general character and composition.
The Irish Party, as we know it, was originally the creation of Parnell, and was, perhaps, his most signal achievement. It became, under the genius of his leadership, a mighty constitutional force - disciplined, united, efficient and vigilant. It had the merit of knowing its own mind. It kept aloof from British Party entanglements. It was pledged to sit, act and vote together, and its members loyally observed the pledge both in the spirit and the letter, and did not claim the right to place their own individual interpretation upon it. Furthermore, it was a cardinal article of honour that members of the Party were to seek no favours from British Ministers, because it needs no argument to demonstrate that the Member of Parliament who pleads for favours for himself or preferment for his friends can possess no individual independence. He is shackled in slavery to the Minister to whom his importunities are addressed. He is simply a patriot on the make, despised by himself and despised by those to whom he addresses his subservient appeals. There was no place for such a one in Parnell's Irish Party, which embodied as nearly as possible that perfect political cohesion which is the dream of all great leaders. There were men of varying capacity and, no doubt, of differing thought in Parnell's Party, but where Ireland's national interests were concerned it was a united body, an undivided phalanx which faced the foe. And by the very boldness and directness of Parnell's policy, he won to his side in the country, not only all the moral and constitutional forces making for Nationalism, but the revolutionary forces - who yearned for an Irish Republic - as well. He was, therefore, not only the leader of a Party; he was much more - he was the leader of a United Irish nation. His aim was eminently sane and practical - to obtain the largest possible measure of national autonomy, and he did not care very much what it was called. But he made it clear that whatever he might accept in his time and generation was not to be the last word on the Irish Question. He fought with the weapons that came to his hand - and he used them with incomparable skill and judgment - with popular agitation in Ireland, with "direct action" of a most forcible and audacious kind in Parliament. A great leader has always the capacity for attracting capable lieutenants to his side. We need only refer to the example of Napoleon as overwhelming proof of this. And so out of what would ordinarily seem humble and unpromising material Parnell brought to his banner a band of young colleagues who have since imperishably fixed their place in Irish history. I am not writing the life-story of the members of Parnell's Party, but if I were it would be easy to show that most of the colleagues who have come to any measure of greatness since were men of no antecedent notoriety (I use the word in its better application), with possibly one exception, and it is somewhat remarkable that the son of John Blake Dillon, who owed perhaps not a little to the fact that he was his father's son, should have been the one who first showed signs of recalcitrancy against Party rule and discipline when he inveighed against the Land Act of 1881 and betook himself abroad for three years during the time when the national movement was locked in bitterest conflict with the Spencer Coercionist regime. Let it be at once conceded that Parnell's lieutenants were men whose gifts and talents would have in any circumstances carried them to eminent heights, but it might be said also they lost nothing from their early association with so great a personality and from the fact that he brought them into the gladiatorial arena, where their mental muscles were, so to speak, trained and tested and extended in combat with some of the finest minds of the age.
In the days when the later Irish Party had entered upon its decrepitude some of its leaders sought to maintain a sorry unity by shouting incessantly from the house-tops, as if it were some sacred formula which none but the unholy or those predestined to political damnation dare dispute: "Majority Rule." And a country which they had reduced to the somnambulistic state by the constant reiteration of this phrase unfortunately submitted to their quackery, and have had grave reason to regret it ever since. Parnell had very little respect for shams - whether they were sham phrases or sham politicians. He was a member of Butt's Home Rule Party but he was not to be intimidated from pursuing the course he had mapped out for himself by any foolish taunts about his "Policy of Exasperation"; he was a flagrant sinner against the principle of "majority rule," but time has proved him to be a sinner who was very much in the right. Mr Dillon used to hurl another name of anathema at our heads - the heads of those of us who were associated with Mr O'Brien in his policy of national reconciliation - he used to dub us "Factionists." It was not fair fighting, nor honest warfare, nor decent politics. It was the base weapon of a man who had no arguments of reason by which he could overwhelm an opponent, but who snatched a bludgeon from an armoury of certain evil associations which he knew would prevail where more legitimate methods could not.