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Duffy, Charles Gavan, Sir, 1816-1903 / Threats Of Coercion (November 29, 1845)



As the fitting answer to some insolent language of the Standard, upon this subject, we last week took occasion to enlarge somewhat upon a text furnished by the Standard’s master, “that Repeal could not be put down by force.”

There has been in this country, during the year which is just expiring, a great and unwonted activity in seeking for advantageous investment of capital in commercial and industrial speculations. Railway enterprise alone has assumed so gigantic and, with all its dangers of over speculation, so benignant an aspect, that we may fairly promise ourselves a vast and permanent improvement in the material resources of the country and comforts of the People.

But there is one condition without which none of all these benefits can be looked for, and that is Peace.

It is in reliance upon a continuance of internal tranquility that we invest our capital in railroads; not for the sake of transporting troops, but of facilitating traffic, have our capitalists bethought themselves of making these iron roads; their proper use is to carry goods and passengers from place to place, not to furnish any enemy with a more expeditious machinery for stifling the public voice or crushing public opinion—nay, the country would not endure that they should be made to serve that turn. Even the threat of it is intolerable; and we tell those brutal braggarts that to coercive uses railways must not be put. The means and appliances which we are providing for our peaceful traffic shall not be made an instrument for our enslavement.

When we spoke, last week, of the impossibility of using any country’s own roads for the purpose of coercing it, we said that, as regarded this island, the thing was a dream, a shadow, the empty boasting of a blood-thirsty press. Here there is no need, no room, no pretext, for coercion. There is no war, no insurrection, no chance of any; a thousand times the leaders of opinion in this country have announced that their arms are peaceful, that it is to moral force alone they are looking for the regeneration of Ireland and the restitution of her lost Legislature. And all this will moral force achieve; if permitted freely to operate by its usual organs of the tongue and the pen; but if there were any mad attempt to destroy or fetter those peaceful organs, to meet opinion with cannon, and the voice of remonstrance with bayonets, then, indeed, we should fondly trust that while a weapon, or the materials of one, were within reach of a freeman’s grasp, such infernal policy must be defeated.

There have been nations in the world (oh ! what a sad world it had been else) who have won immortal glory, who have inscribed their names in the brightest pages of earth’s history, by resisting invasion at the cost, not of their roads only, but of their very fields and cities. Rather than an enemy should occupy it, Russia burned down her capital city—rather than the armies of Louis should tread their soil, the Dutch left not a foot of ground to bear an enemy. They preferred to have their country flooded by the Zuyder Zee than polluted by tyrants.

Surely, it is only in so dire extremity that such terrible methods of resistance could be so much as thought of; and that extremity would be come when a military Government—be it French, English, or Algerine—should endeavour to force the peaceful cry of a nation for her nationhood, back into her throat at the bayonet’s point.

We have made our meaning, we hope, sufficiently plain. It is simply that commerce, not military coercion, is the proper use of a railway, and that “Repeal cannot be put down by force.”

Mr. O’Connell has personally remonstrated with us upon that portion of the article in which we mention Repeal Wardens as those who (in the horrible case supposed) should exhort the People to use every means of resistance; and the occasion of our referring to the matter at all is, that we may state distinctly that we have neither connexion with, nor control over, Repeal Wardens. They are the officers of the Repeal Association, and its directions alone they will obey. We feel assured that neither the Association nor the Wardens will be wanting to their country in any difficulty that our common cause may meet.

Some newspapers, we observe, have spoken with affected abhorrence of the words we quoted from the gallant Tyrolien, Hofer. Perhaps the writers never read or heard of that immortal chieftain; or, if they did, never could conceive how noble, how virtuous, how religious an act, and how worthy of God’s blessing it is, to take arms in defence of invaded homes and altars. [1*]

To show that Government has been directing its attention to railways as a governmental engine, and even considering in detail the very views of that matter which we stated last week, we annex the evidence of Sir Willoughby Gordon, Quartermaster-General, taken before the “gauge” commission.


The commission appointed last session to receive evidence on the relative merits of the broad and narrow gauges has sat several times. At the sitting of the commission on Wednesday last, Sir Willoughby Gordon, Quarter-master General of her Majesty’s Forces, was examined relative to the facilities afforded by railways for the transport of troops. The following is a condensed report of the general’s evidence:—

For the last three years and half, ending the 30th of June, there were conveyed by railway 212,000 persons, of whom 9,600 were women and 11,000 children, without a single accident being reported—a security previously unknown by any other mode of conveyance of troops.

By the Chairman—In the case of war, could the railways be made available for the defence of his country ?

Witness—Certainly. The effect of the rapidity of the railways was such that they could do as much with a small army as could have formerly been done with a large one; the break of a gauge would diminish these advantages; the practical inconvenience would be similar to that of a ferry; great inconvenience would result from want of cover ; I know the stations at Paddington and at Slough, and am enabled to speak of them; the break of a gauge at Slough would cause great inconvenience from the delay that it would occasion; it would be very inconvenient to unpack the baggage and ammunition after they had been once stowed away; the effect to cavalry would be the same; it has been suggested that in case of an insurrection there would be a danger that the railways might be broken up; I do not think that could be easily done; if such a thing was expected patrols might be easily stationed on the line; the military would take care to provide against anything of that kind.


[1*] The Bavarian vanguard, composed of 4,000 men, advanced into the defile; and when they had reached midway, the mountaineers hurled down upon their heads huge rocks, which they had rolled to the verge of the precipice, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.—Histoire des Tyroliens.

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