Albert Venn Dicey.

The verdict: a tract on the political significance of the Report of the Parnell Commission online

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The Political Significance o j

the Parnell Commission.
, c

A. V. DICEY, Q.C.,

















A. Not Guilty 23

r- B. Not Proven . 28

C. Guilty 34




5F Irrelevant Arguments 80


i. Attack on Judges 80

ii. Attack on Times 82

iii. Conservative condonation of Parnellism ... 84

iv. Conspiracy sometimes trifles 85

Relevant Arguments . . . ... . . - . 89

i. Argument from history of agrarian crime in Ireland . 89

ii. Argument from universal prevalence of boycotting . 103



iii. Argument from the nature of political crime . . 117

iv. Argument from the nature of political movements . 126
v. Argument from the Union of hearts . . . .136




Parnellites 155

Gladstonians 160

Unionists 169


I. Commissioners' Findings 189

II. Names of the Respondents affected by the Report . 193


MY purpose in writing this tract is to bring home to
Englishmen the full meaning, as yet not completely
understood and the immense political significance, as
yet hardly if at all realised of the Report made to the
Crown on the i3th of February, 1890, by the Commis-
sioners appointed under the Special Commission Act, 1888.
This tract, therefore, consists of two portions. It con-
tains in the first place, an explanation of the " Verdict,"
as I have ventured to term it, delivered by the Commis-
sioners ; this comment or explanation will, I trust, help
readers untrained in the interpretation of legal documents
to grasp the full meaning of the conclusions arrived at by
the Commissioners. It contains in the second place, a
body of argument which aims at showing that the Verdict
vitally affects the position of every Party in the State, and
also adds strength to all the grounds on which Unionists
have offered uncompromising opposition to the policy of
the Parnellites and their allies. My whole argument, be it
remarked, is based upon the Report. The " brief," how-
ever, if so it may be called, on which my reasoning is
founded, differs from any brief handed to counsel in a
court of law ; for it is a statement of facts prepared not by
the astuteness or partiality of a lawyer seeking to make out


a case for his client, but by the trained sagacity and rigid
equity of judges who have proposed to themselves no ob-
ject but the eliciting and the statement of the truth.

This preface affords the proper opportunity for express-
sing my deliberate conviction, based on an elaborate study
"of the Report, and on careful observation of every stage in
the conflict between the Times and the Land League, that
the proprietors of the Times have rendered a signal service
to the State for which they have as yet received, even from
Unionists, nothing like due gratitude. The owners of the
Times have, it is true, in the bitter contest with foes whose
wrong-doing is now established, fallen into many errors and
faults. The most signal and least excusable of these mis-
takes has brought deep and not undeserved discredit on
the management of the Times, and has for the moment
damaged the prestige of the Unionist cause, which the
Times intended to serve. But if the owners of the Times
have been guilty of errors for which they have paid the due
and heavy, but the adequate penalty, they have also by
their exposure of Parnellism conferred a lasting benefit on
the country. They have displayed high civic virtues ; they
have denounced, they have resisted, they have exposed,
they have checked, lawless oppression ; they have carried
through, at their private cost (a cost which must be reck-
oned up by thousands of pounds), something like a public
prosecution, and have thereby established against a powerful
party the guilt of criminal conspiracy. That the owners of
the Times should be blamed, and severely blamed, for their
faults no one can complain. The legitimate ground for com-
plaint is that while their faults are remembered their public-


spirited action is forgotten. Against this injustice it is a
duty to protest not only for the sake of fairness to men
whose sacrifices have served the State, but for the sake
of the commonwealth itself. It will be an evil day for
England if ever the time should arrive when the guides of
public opinion are not prepared to risk the loss of wealth
and influence for the sake of exposing injustice and
criminality. But that time will certainly soon arrive if
politicians are not prepared to pay to the public spirit of
private individuals the tribute at any rate of gratitude.

Many Unionists and all Gladstonians will hold that my
opinion as to the conduct of the Times savours of a
fanaticism or party spirit which shakes their confidence in
the conclusions put forward in this tract. Let me suggest
that the right course for any critic who wishes to correct
any bias which may against my will influence my statement
of the case against the Parnellites> is to study the Report
itself. If every censor who questions my fairness will read
or re-read the pages of the Report, the object with which
this tract is written will be fully attained. The one essen-
tial matter is that the Report should be read. The Verdict
of the Commission is the condemnation of Parnellism,
and when once understood will, in Great Britain at least,
destroy all sympathy with Parnellite policy.


June, 1890.



THOUSANDS of honest electors know not what to think of Re p ort n J


the Report of the Special Commission ; they are dazed by
all the hubbub of parliamentary debate ; they are wearied
by the fallacies, the invectives, the asseverations and mis-
representations of politicians. Their perplexity, moreover,
is not solely due to the exaggerations and one-sidedness of
parliamentary rhetoric : it is owing in part, paradoxical
though the assertion may sound, to the perfect impar-
tiality and admirable self-restraint, not only in conduct but
in language, imposed upon themselves by the Commis-
sioners. Balanced statements, limited assertions, and quali-
fied conclusions are the natural result of passionless inquiry
into the conduct of human beings. But the qualifications
and limitations necessary to the expression of perfectly
fair conclusions puzzle even educated men not specially
trained in the weighing of evidence. The rash asseverations
of partisanship are more intelligible, as well as more effective,
than the measured utterances of perfect justice. Hence the
very Englishmen who wish to guide their political action,
as wise men should, in accordance with the conclusions
of the Commissioners, hardly as yet understand what these


to explain
results of

of inquiry.

conclusions are, or even in what direction they point. Good
citizens who do not know what to think about the Report
.will, it may be feared, save themselves from trouble by not
thinking about it at all. Hence there exists a real peril that
many persons who desire nothing so much as sound and
authoritative guidance through the maze of political con-
troversy, may lose all the invaluable instruction which they
ought to gather from the most important State document
which has been issued during the last half-century.

My aim is as far as may be to avert this peril,
by affording such a plain explanation of the meaning
and results of the Report as may make intelligible to
readers of average education and intelligence both what
are the main conclusions at which the Commissioners
have arrived, and what is the bearing of these conclusions
upon the great political controversy of the day. Such an
inquiry into the meaning of the Report must, in order to
attain its end, be conducted in accordance with certain
definite principles. A few words, therefore, as to the prin-
ciples or assumptions on which my examination of the
Report depends may be useful by way of introduction to
my argument.

These principles are three. They are so simple, and
their soundness will by most persons be so readily admitted,
that to enounce them with formality may well savour of
academic preciseness or pedantry. But the explicit state-
ment of principles assumed throughout the whole of this
tract as indisputable precludes misunderstanding, and is
justified by the consideration that the truth and importance
of each one of them has been, if not precisely questioned,


yet overlooked, in every public discussion to which the
Report has given ribe.

I. The Report, taken as a whole, must be treated as a i. Trust-
truthful and trustworthy account of the matters with which it o 5

That among men not blinded by partisanship the con-
clusions of the Commission should command absolute con-
fidence is a dictate of common sense.

Of the honesty of the three judges, of their intentional
fairness, of their unblemished character, of their judicial
capacity, it is needless to say anything. Their special
qualifications for the discharge of a most arduous task are
on all hands admitted. The means possessed by them
for ascertaining the truth were, strictly speaking, un-
paralleled ; these means were such as never have been,
and probably never again will be, possessed by any other
men, whether politicians or magistrates. Sir James Hannen
and his colleagues saw and heard all the witnesses whom the
foes or the defenders of the League chose to produce ; all
the evidence brought forward was given on oath, it was sub-
jected to the test of the most rigorous cross-examination, it
was sifted with the utmost care without any regard to the
expenditure either of time or of labour ; the lawyers employed
on either side were the picked men of the legal profession in
England and in Ireland. No one's mouth was closed. The
one circumstance which is supposed to detract from the
fairness of our criminal procedure the compulsory silence
of the accused was from the peculiar nature of the investi-
gation got rid of. Every respondent was at liberty to appear
and make whatever statement he chose in defence of himself
B 2


or of the association of which he was a member. The ap-
pearance of some and the non-appearance of others among
the Parnellites incriminated were equally instructive. The
non-production of proof may be at least as suggestive as its
production ; silence may tell more than speech. Of the
amount of the evidence brought before the Commission Court
some faint conception may be formed by remembering that
over 450 witnesses were examined, that the proceedings in
court lasted for 128 days, and that the official account of
them fills a " Bluebook " of eleven huge volumes, making
up 7,227 pages. During a much longer period, moreover,
than the 128 days of the inquiry the effect of the evidence
was before the minds of the judges. They did not deliver
any hasty decision ; months elapsed between the closing of
the investigation and the sending in of their Report. If
the account g^ven by such men of the inferences to be drawn
from such an inquiry is not to be treated as trustworthy and
true, it is hard to say what is the evidence on which any
man can venture to rely.

The three judges, it will be suggested, are human ; they,
like other men, have their prepossessions, or, to speak plainly,
prejudices ; they were liable to be misled ; they have occa-
sionally fallen into error. The 121 pages of the Report
must occasionally contain mistakes of fact.

All this, and much more to the same effect, which might
be alleged or insinuated, is in some sense true, but it is all
for our present purpose irrelevant. The effect of preposses-
sions on the part of the Commissioners against the Par-
nellites, if any such prepossessions existed, has been
grossly exaggerated; for any feeling against the respondents


was assuredly balanced by the weight of an opposite and
most honourable prejudice from which no magistrate could
be free ; the mode of procedure adopted by the Commis-
sioners, their demeanour, their language, the very terms in
which their Report is couched betray the constant and (if
in such a matter there can be excess) the excessive desire
to preserve not only the reality but the visible appearance
of justice. They wished, and rightly wished, not only to be
just, but that all men should recognise in them the fair-
ness and leniency towards the accused which is the noblest
tradition of the English bench. Any possible political pre-
possession was well counteracted by the idol, if so it may be
called, of *he judgment-seat. It is, however, unnecessary for
my argument to contend that the authors of the Report
never made mistakes, or to claim for them a more than
Papal infallibility, which they would be the last to arrogate
for themselves. Some errors their Report must contain^
and time will make them manifest. The only admission
which my argument requires is the truth of the asser-
tion, made with the utmost confidence, that the con-
clusions arrived at by the Commission constitute the
best ascertained body of facts with regard to the Land
League, its leaders, and their policy, accessible to English-
men. No man of sense or fairness will treat these conclusions
as practically doubtful. How dare any Unionist assert or
believe that Mr. Parnell wrote the " fac-simile " letter when
the Commissioners have found it to be a forgery ? What
right has any Gladstonian to assert that the respondents did
not conspire, when the Commissioners have found them
guilty of a criminal conspiracy? Zealots of every party


will in the long run find it their truest wisdom to
acquiesce in the judicial verdict of the Commission
Court ; they may show cause for denying the political im-
portance, but they can make out no case for questioning
the substantial truthfulness, of the Report.

The language even of partisans bears witness to the
soundness of this contention. Speakers of all parties
impliedly recognise the essential accuracy of the Report.
Unionists most rightly drop all accusations against the
Parnellites which the Commissioners pronounce to have
been confuted ; Gladstonians argue that the deeds con-
demned by the Commissioners are trifling, venial, or ex-
cusable, and in any case ought not to affect our Irish policy ;
but they hardly deny that the findings of the Commission
are justified by the facts.

Of the worth of the various excuses* put forward to
diminish the political importance of the Report, it will be
time to form an estimate when we have ascertained precisely
what are the conclusions of the Commissioners as to the
innocence or the guilt of the respondents. All that need
here be noted is that apology involves confession. No
one excuses an offence whereof he denies the commission.
A prisoner stands accused of theft ; he urges that the
pressure of misery palliates appropriation by the poor
of the superfluities of the wealthy ; that theft is not the
worst of crimes, or that casuists have discovered occasions
when robbery is a virtue. The jury may admire the skill or
subtlety of the defence, but they know, as they hear it, that
the prisoner confesses himself guilty of laiceny.
* See Cap. II.


\\.-The whole of the document signed by the Com- if. -Report

to be read
missioners, and not only the findings which summarise their as a whole.

conclusions, must be read and accepted as their verdict con-
cerning the matters referred to their decision.

The whole Report is the verdict or judgment of the

The " findings " are litttle more than a summary of the
results at which the Commission have arrived. The find-
ings indeed, if read alone, are hardly intelligible, and at
any rate lose half their import. The word " intimidation "
for example admits of and has received various interpreta-
tions. We understand what it means in the findings only
when we have read the descriptions and the examples of it
given in the body of the Report. When we read in Find-
ing No. IV., that the respondents " did disseminate the Irish
" World, and other newspapers inciting to the commission of
" crime," we hardly know what was their offence. To under-
stand its nature we must know other facts set forth in the
Report ; we must learn what style of paper was the Irish
V/orld, and what its connection with the League.* A great
deal more again follows than the Parnellites or their English
allies care to admit from the fact now proclaimed by the Re-
port to the English-speaking world that United Ireland f has
been from the first the official organ of the League, and was
founded by Mr. Parnell, Mr. W. O'Brien, and other Land
Leaguers. But the point now insisted qpon needs no
lengthy elaboration. Any reader of intelligence will soon
see that it is the whole Report and not the findings

* Report, pp. 59 65. t See Report, page 65.


alone, which must be treated as the judicial decision or
deliverance of the Commissioners.
Sub- jjj Q ur m j na [ s must be kept fixed upon ihe matter and

stance of * J *

Report the substance of the Report, and upon that alone.

alone . .

essential. Scores of questions which have occupied, distracted, or

excited Members of Parliament have little real connection
with the Report, and are of no permanent importance
whatever. Whether the Commission was appointed at the
suggestion of the Unionists or in deference to the wishes
of the Parnellites ; whether the original creation of the
Commission was an act of prudence or of indiscretion ;
whether the motives of the Times in publishing " Parnellism
and Crime " were patriotic or malignant ; whether Pigott's
evidence had better have been introduced at an earlier
period of the investigation before the Commissioners than
that at which it was brought forward, are inquiries which to
any man whose eye is fixed on the permanent interests of
the nation must appear trifles worthy neither of con-
sideration nor of answer. The questions which do
concern the welfare of the state are of a very different
calibre. What is the true character of the Parnellite
movement? does the Land League merely tread in the
steps of the Anti-Corn Law League and other perfectly-
lawful associations ? are its authors constitutionalists or
conspirators, agitators or revolutionists ? These are the
questions which are of vital importance to every man who
has a care for the prosperity of the United Kingdom. To
these inquiries the Commission's Report does in some
measure give an answer ; to that answer and its results
it will be well as far as possible to confine our attention.


Our object should be twofold : first to ascertain exactly
what are the offences of which the respondents have in
the judgment of the Commissioners been guilty;* and
secondly, what is in the eyes of judicious statesmanship
the political importance or result of their guilt, f This at
any rate is the object pursued throughout this tract.

* Chaps. I., II. f Chaps. III., IV.



FOR the due understanding of the Report we must bear in
mind two leading features of the inquiry whereof the Report
embodies the result.

inquiry a ^* fi rsf * s ^ af ^ * n <? ulf y as conducted by the Coin-

tnal. missioners bore throughout a strictly judicial character, i.e.,

was a trial.

The three judges, for reasons which they have them-
selves set forth,* determined that it was not practicable for
them to follow the precedents set by other Royal Com-
missions and devote their efforts to the investigation and
discovery of facts. " We decided," they say, " that the
inquiry should be conducted as though an issue had been
directed to be tried to determine whether or not the persons
charged had been guilty of the acts alleged against them.
From the constitution of the Commission, the powers con-
ferred upon it, and the character of the charges made, we
considered that it was fitting that we should conduct the
inquiry judicially and according to the laws of evidence and
procedure prevailing in the ordinary courts of justice."!

Sir James Hannen and his colleagues, therefore, deter
mined to act rather as judges than Commissioners, and to
conduct not an investigation but a trial.

* Report, p. 2. f Report, p. 2.


This decision governed every step of their proceedings,
and affects not only the form but the very nature of their
Report. This is a matter of vital consequence, and, as its
full import may not be very intelligible to laymen, deserves

In an ordinary investigation the inquirer, whether he be Difference
a man of science in search of scientific truth, or an historian vestigation
engaged in ascertaining the events of a past age, or a de- anc
tective bent upon tracking down an undiscovered criminal,
collects and investigates, either by his own activity or by
the aid of agents, the facts which tell upon the object of
his inquiry. A judge, on the contrary, when conducting
a criminal trial, does not collect facts, but forms an opinion
upon the facts laid before him by others : the function of
an investigator is discovery ; the function of a judge is de-
cision. An investigator, again, just because his object is
simply discovery, uses every kind of evidence which accord-
ing to the nature of the matter examined into may, in the
judgment of a reasonable man, probably, or even possibly,
lead him to a knowledge of the truth. But a judge, when
called upon to decide, or to aid a jury in deciding, whether,
for example, a prisoner be innocent or guilty of a murder,
holds himself tied by rules of evidence, that is precepts,
established either by Acts of Parliament or by the practice
of the courts, defining what is the kind of proof which a
court of justice may receive for the determination of the
questions laid before it ; these rules are framed by no means
solely to promote the discovery of truth, but partly at least
for the attainment of other objects.

An example best illustrates my meaning.


No reasonable man who, for his own satisfaction, wished
to ascertain what was the conduct of the dock labourers
during the recent strike, what were their motives in leaving
their work, and how far, by force or otherwise, they in-
timidated the so-called " blacklegs," would ever tie his
hands by any rules of evidence. Our inquirer would listen
to everything said by persons who had, or were likely to have,
direct or indirect knowledge of what took place before or
during the strike ; he would give ear to general report ; and,
though, if he understood his work, he would in his own
mind distinguish carefully between the probative value of
different kinds of statements, he would certainly not reject
information which weighed upon his judgment, because it
was only secondary or hearsay evidence. A judge, on the
other hand, occupied in trying labourers on a charge of
conspiracy to prevent " blacklegs " from entering into the
employment of the Dock Company, would reject much evi-
dence which our investigator would receive. He would on
principle shut his ears to the effect of certain alleged facts ;
he would reject all hearsay ; he would not pay attention to
common report ; he would, in many cases, decline to con-
sider any but the best evidence.

To point out the distinction between ordinary inquiry
and judicial procedure does not involve the necessity for
censuring either the common-sense customs of every-day
life, or the rules of evidence adopted by the Courts. The
objects of ordinary investigation and of a judicial inquiry
are different. It is natural, therefore, that each should be
conducted on somewhat different principles. In the case,
for example, of research into a matter of history, the


investigator's sole object is to get as near the truth as he

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Online LibraryAlbert Venn DiceyThe verdict: a tract on the political significance of the Report of the Parnell Commission → online text (page 1 of 16)