Front Page Titles (by Subject) 62.: Petition Concerning the Fenians 14 JUNE, 1867 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868
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62.: Petition Concerning the Fenians 14 JUNE, 1867 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXVIII - Public and Parliamentary Speeches Part I November 1850 - November 1868, ed. John M. Robson and Bruce L. Kinzer (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988).
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Petition Concerning the Fenians
PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 187, cols. 1894–5. Reported in The Times, 15 June, p. 9, from which variants and responses are taken. On 3 May, John Bright had submitted a petition, signed by Edward Truelove, Richard Congreve, Frederic Harrison, and eight others, condemning Fenianism because of its secrecy and premature dedication to violence, but nonetheless asserting the political nature of the offences, and asking that the sentences already assigned to prisoners be revised, that they be segregated from common criminals, that moderation be shown in applying the law in Ireland, and that Fenian prisoners be treated well before trial, and judged and sentenced leniently (Petition 8687, Reports from the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Public Petitions, 1867–68; the wording is in App. 530, pp. 223–4). The Report now having been printed, Augustus Henry Archibald Anson (1835–77), M.P. for Lichfield, moved (cols. 1886–90) that the petition itself be “discharged” and that its wording in the Appendix be “cancelled,” on the grounds that its aim was to encourage Fenianism and insult the British army. He referred to criticisms made in the House by Perronet Thompson in 1858 concerning the army’s reaction to the Indian Mutiny.
i rise, not for the purpose of discussing the question raised upon the Motion submitted to us, which I cannot imagine, especially after the opposition made to it by the Chairman of the Committee on Petitions,1 that the House will think of adopting. I rise, moved by a feeling of self-respect, to say that if the honourable and gallant Gentleman thought it his duty to move that the petition be expelled from the House, he should go further, and move that I be expelled from it, for there is not a single sentiment in the petitiona, as far as I am aware,a which I do not adopt. (Oh, oh!) I will not say that I adhere to every word in it, but to every sentiment in it I most implicitly do, and I thank my honourable Friend who presented it for having given utterance for once in this House to a feeling which nearly all bEurope and the civilized world entertain, respecting certain acts done in the dependencies of this countryb .2 The honourable and gallant Gentleman is mistaken in supposing that utterance to be an attack on his profession. I have been infinitely more disgusted in reference to the Indian transactions referred to, by the inhuman and ferocious displays of feeling made by unmilitary persons, persons in civil life, who were safe at home, and who, it seems to me, were far more culpable than those who committed excesses under such provocation as there is no denying was given in the case of India. Even the deeds there done of inhuman and indiscriminate massacre, the seizing of persons in all parts of the country and putting them to death without trial, and then boasting of it in a manner almost disgraceful to humanity, cas was the case in innumerable instances which were described at the time,c were by no means confined to the army. I have no doubt that in many cases the habitual discipline of the army, and their professional feelings, prevented them from being guilty of such deeds. I could tell the House of gentlemen who resigned their commissions and left the army because they could not bear the deeds which they not only saw done, but were compelled by their orders to do. (Name, name!) I decline to name them, and by naming them to expose them to attacks (Oh, and Hear) like those which have been made to-night against a well-known public man, formerly a Member of this House, for the vindication of whom I return my sincerest thanks to the honourable Member for Bradford.3 With respect to the sentiments contained in the petition dand its alleged palliation of the conduct ofd the Fenians, I beg to point out that it contains a very decided and strong condemnation of their conduct. All it said was that it was conduct esuch as honourable but mistaken men might be capable ofe . That cannot be denied. It cannot be denied that such men as Wolfe Tone,4 Emmett, and Lord Edward Fitzgerald, however wrongly they may have acted, were the very stuff of which patriot heroes are made. The errors of the Fenians may be more blameable than theirs. Do I exculpate their conduct? Certainly not. It was greatly culpable, because it was contrary to the general interests of society and of their country. Still, errors of this character are not errors which evince a vulgar mind—certainly not a mind likely to be guilty of ordinary crime and vice—rather a mind capable of heroic actions and lofty virtue. Such acts have been committed by the most self-devoted and admirable persons. fHow far that is so in the present instance I am unable to say, because, not knowing the antecedents of those whose conduct was implicated, I cannot form an accurate judgment upon the point. I feel, at the same time, sure that the acts for which they have been made amenable to the law, and which the good of society demands should be punished with severity, do not brand them as detestable, but only as pitiable.f (Hear.)
[After further debate, Anson’s motion was lost.]
[1 ]Charles Forster (1815–91), M.P. for Walsall, pointed out that the Committee on Petitions had no power to object to a petition on the grounds of substance.
[a-a]+TT [in third person, past tense]
[b-b]TT [in past tense PD England and all the world entertain]]
[2 ]John Bright, Speech on Presenting a Petition on Fenianism (3 May, 1867), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 186, cols. 1929–31.
[3 ]William Edward Forster (1818–86), M.P. for Bradford, cols. 1891–2, defended Perronet Thompson (1783–1869), formerly M.P. for Bradford, for the remarks in Thompson’s Speech on India (16 Feb., 1858), ibid., Vol. 148, cols. 1539–42.
[d-d]TT] PD relating to
[e-e]TT] PD of which men of honour might have been capable
[4 ]Theobald Wolfe Tone (1763–98), a founder of the United Irish Society, who joined in the French invasion of Ireland in 1798, was captured, condemned to death, and committed suicide. For Emmett and Fitzgerald, see No. 57.
[f-f]TT [in third person, past tense PD I know nothing of those particular men which can enable me to judge whether this be the case with them or not; but the conduct by which they have made themselves amenable to the law, and for which they must be punished, does not stamp them as objects of detestation, but rather of pity.]]