MF – 1865.11.25 – Hon. T. D. McGee – Speech on the Fenians – #126 – F12250

When the Hon. T. D. M’Gee went to Ireland, nominally as one of the Commissioners to the Dublin Exhibition, he made a speech at Wexford which gave great offence to Irishmen everywhere. For the purpose of gaining the applause of the London Times, the Dublin Evening Mail, and the other papers which ever delight in representing the Irish as an inferior race, and to earn admission to the banquettings in London, Oxford, &c., of which he afterwards was proud to boast, he described the millions of Irish in the United States as utterly corrupt and degraded, depicting the very worst type of the worst class, the pot-house politician and electioneering rowdy, as the true representative of the great mass of the Irish Americans – the sensible, sober, prudent, and really patriotic being, according to him, the few who were exceptions to the almost universal rule. In a speech made some time after in London, before some parties connected with the Grand Trunk, he made similar statements, although he did not venture to go quite so far. The Times of course praised him and lauded the courage which he showed in telling what is called wholesome if unpleasant truths to the Irish people, and all the other known enemies of that people joined in his praise.

Of the Irishmen of Montreal who had sent Mr. M’Gee to the Legislature, very many naturally felt indignant at this wanton attack on their countrymen in the United States, and the gross calumnies poured upon them in their name, and some two hundred of them published an address in which they repudiated all participation in the disgraceful conduct of their representative. Mr. M’Gee and his immediate friends and followers felt that he had gone too far, and that something must be done to recover the ground he had lost. On his return to Montreal they tried to get up a demonstration of welcome at the Railway Station; but elaborate as had been their preparations, the hisses and groans drowned the cheers. After that they proposed to get up a dinner for him, but the political hacks and time servers were, some engaged at Quebec preparing for the Session, the others so far scattered that they would not be easily assembled, and as the dinner was at first intended as a sort of counter demonstration of the Irish of Montreal themselves, and it was found that few of these could be induced to attend the banquet – after some little flourish about Mr. M’Gee’s duties as a member of the Government, was postponed. Some time after he delivered an ill-digested lecture on “Cardinal Wiseman,” which every one knew was got up in a hurry in order to win back the Irish Catholics if possible.

Mr. M’Gee’s unpopularity among the people to whom he owes everything seems to be unabated and in order to counteract this as much as possible, his adherents determined to try to effect of the dinner which they had originally contemplated, and accordingly a dinner was given at the St. Lawrence Hall, Montreal, a few days ago, and all the influence of the Government and of the Grand Trunk was employed to procure the attendance of guests. It was desirable that as many men with Irish names as possible should be present, and place-holders were summoned from all parts of the two Provinces – yet the “Irish element,” as far as we can judge from reading the list of about two hundred names, was but poorly represented after all. Members of the Government were there; officials of the Grand Trunk were here; place-holders and jobbers were there: – but very few besides.

Mr. M’Gee made quite as good a use of Fenianism in his speech at this dinner as Mr. Fisher made of it in York. When Mr. M’Gee made his Wexford speech Fenianism was little thought of by any body. It was generally despised and disregarded, and Mr. M’Gee made but a passing allusion to it; but those who judge from the speech he made at the dinner must suppose that Mr. M’Gee’s sole offence is that he denounced Fenianism. Deliberately, [wilfully], with malice [prepense] and aforethought, to serve his own ends, he calumniated the whole Irish population of the United States, and now with an air of sweetest innocence, much injured, he pretends that he attacked only the Fenians. This he perhaps thinks a very clever dodge, and no doubt his colleagues and his adherents enjoyed it exceedingly; but they were all much mistaken if they supposed that any one could be deceived by such means, or that this attempt to shift his ground could be successful.

The greater part of Mr. M’Gee’s speech was an attack on the Fenians. The report of this part of his speech occupies several columns, and if his description be not an exaggeration, that body of Irishmen are not merely a an association of fools and knaves, or traitors, as others represent them, but the greatest fiends incarnate that ever cursed the earth with their presence. Himself an Irish Yankee who lived long with and upon the class he so describes, perhaps much weight is due to his evidence. – But with this we are little concerned.

We almost expected as we read, to find that after he had worked up his audience to the proper pitch of horror, &c., he would denounce those Irishmen in Montreal who signed the Address, or at least those who got it up, as Fenians; but he is too cunning for that. He had offended them too deeply already, and he knew that if members of the Executive and officials of the Grand Trunk had assembled to do him honour, it was because he was supposed to have some influence with the Irish, and that if by other calumnies, directed more immediately at themselves, he further alienated the Irish of Montreal, he would find few in Canada or in England to do him reverence. So with all the airs of a most indulgent patron, he assured his audience that the Canadian Irish are not quite so low or so depraved as their American cousins. For the comfort of those who may be inclined to place more reliance in the statement of so great a Confederate than on their own reasons and commonsense – of which their stock must be rather small – we publish this part of his speech in full:

“I think they set down their force in British America at the exact figure of 45,000 men. Well, Sir, all I can say is, that if the rest of their figures are as near the mark as these, they are a very formidable body of enemies – to the Truth! My reverend friend, the Archbishop of Halifax who was here the other day, assured me that Fenianism was entirely unknown within his jurisdiction. In Lower Canada it has neither a local habitation nor a name; and though, as I said at Wexford, there may be some of the species somewhere among us, since the number of fools, we are assured on good authority, is infinite, yet compared to the great, orderly, law-abiding, religious mass of the Provincial Irish, they are not a drop in the bucket, nor a bucket in Lake Ontario. Our friends from a distance, if they think it worth while, can speak for their own sections. I speak in presence of Irish gentlemen from almost every section of the country, and I say as to the alleged sympathy existing here, in the City and District of Montreal. I say all the statements that have appeared are shameful falsifications. What, I ask, is the character and position of the Irish Catholic inhabitants of this city and district? do not flatter them – I respect them too much to flatter them, but I believe every administrator of the law in this vicinity will bear me out when I say there is generally no more orderly or law-abiding portion of our population. Like the Western wheat when shipped through our cooler northern waters they avoided fermentation by taking the Canadian route. But if they are not so easily fermented as they are in New York, neither are they so apt to get damaged. They are a religious people, blessed with an exemplary clergy whom they honor and obey. No good cause appeals to them in vain, and I question it there are congregations in the city which, according to their means, more liberally respond to the call of every charity. Large numbers of them – about 2,000 in this city alone, are tax-paying proprietors. Another portion have stock in our Banks or deposits in the Savings Banks; still another are what we call in Canada, where no man denies his nativity, “Irishmen born here” – And these are the people – industrious, gainful, and generally respected – who are expected by the speculators in disaffection to change their nature in a night, to destroy trade, to stop employment, and rush into a general pillage and massacre of their friends and neighbors. We who know them, know that, having made their homes by hard labor, they will be found ready to defend them, if need be, by hard blows; that having a large and growing interest in Canada, they feel it to be their own country, and will guard it as their own. We know that, having full freedom in all matters, civil and religious, they need no new light from the dark lantern of the Fenian Know-Nothings. I call these Fenians Know-Nothings, for they are as far as we are concerned, a genuine duplicate of the original Know-Nothings. And they would no doubt, be backed up in their designs on Canada by the other Know-Nothings for purposes of their own. ‘To the Banks’ would be the cry of one set; ‘to the Convents’ of the other. The hate of Cain, and the cupidity of Judas, and the lust of Belial, would be the inspiration of these well sorted allies, for the objects of all would be plunder, and all kinds of outrage. Who for a moment supposes that any man dwelling among us, buying, selling, and mingling freely with his fellow-citizens, would lend himself to such villainy. I repeat for the Irish inhabitants of this section of Canada that there are no grounds for so foul a slander, and I am happy in this respect to echo the declaration of our national Society at its last monthly meeting, in the resolution proposed by our Secretary, Mr. Clarke, and seconded by Mr. O’Mears, ‘That the Irish-Catholics of this Province, in the event of any emergency requiring their assistance, will be found in the future, as they have been in the past, ever ready and willing to defend the cause of law and order.’ There was not a dissentient voice to that resolution, and there would not have been had it been put to the whole of the class represented by the Society. It is well the true state of feeling should be known; nothing ought and nothing can (if the facts alone are needed) shake our mutual confidence in each other.”

“Let no man attempt to embody us, at any time, by sect or class, or race or society – such distinctions will and must exist, but in the presence of those who speculate on our divided interest – of those who would be the only gainers by such divisions – let all such distinctions be buried and forgotten. The care of Canada is no man’s monopoly but every man’s equal and bounden duty; in the discharge of that duty, if called upon actively to discharge it, we shall know, till it is over, neither Orangemen nor Catholics nor any other distinction but one, who are, and who are not, ready to defend their country. The Fenians in the United States feeling in their hearts for all their fustian about the glorious republic, that they are not really at home there; feeling that they have not conquered for themselves a new country in the New-World, may try to solace themselves with a conspiracy in lieu of a country. I am sorry that there has been some needless discussion couched in a different spirit; let it pass; let it be forgotten; but the Irish in Canada who (looking back to their small beginnings a few years ago) who have already made such headway – who already exercise by common consent so large a share of legitimate influence – they have a position to guard, and guard it they will, with national ardor and resolution. Mr. Chairman, in holding this language, I am morally certain I speak [speak] for 999 out of a thousand of all my countrymen in Canada; for all but a handful of those who are known as skeddadlers – runaways from the first and second American draft, who would not fight for the United States when they were in it, and who would be satisfied nowhere, under any form of government, that required duties to be discharged, in return for rights conceded. If there are any Fenian sympathizers among us, they are altogether of this class, and the Americans ought to know by this time what reliance to place upon them and their reports.”

We hope that this will console the editors of the Journal and Intelligencer, and their friend Mr. Fisher, and restore their peace of mind.