MF – 1865.01.14 – Fenians – #116 – F12250
The editor of the News of Friday devotes three articles to the Fenians, but all to prove that he meant no harm; that he never believed or thought anything bad of the Catholics; that he never dreamt of exciting sectarian strife; that he has Irish blood in his own veins (it must be of the questionable kind;) and that it was the FREEMAN that was all in fault when it made an –
“Attempt to fasten upon us the charge of endeavouring to ‘excite sectarian strife’ by means of our recent reference to the Fenians. No man knows better than the editor of the Freeman that the construction which he would [fain] put upon our language is unwarrantable, that the motives which he imputes to us have no foundation in fact.”
How very innocent he would now wish to appear. His effort has signally failed, and now he would fain have the public believe he never made it, and that he is a much injured individual.
But it matters little what the editor of the News says on this subject, now that his power to do mischief is destroyed.
The editor of the Presbyterian we are sorry to find, takes a course almost as bad – indeed quite as disreputable as that of the News. We must confess our astonishment at this, for we thought better of that gentleman. We do not complain of the column and a half of twaddle devoted to the editor of the FREEMAN – we are too much accustomed to see writers of all parties endeavour to cover their retreat from an untenable position by making a show of attacking the FREEMAN and abusing the misrepresenting its editor. We should be quite content in this case that the editor of the Presbyterian should indulge in twice as many sneers at us, vent twice as much of his wrath on us, give us twice as many lessons, and labour twice as hard to represent the professional [partizan] story teller and retailer of stale jokes as a most respectable person, (he imagines he has identified him from the description of a character by no means respectable) but we did expect that in a case like this, in which not the Editor of the FREEMAN alone, but the whole community was interested, he would have manfully admitted that the statements made were unfounded and unwarrantable. He said a week ago: –
“We have received intimation of alleged Fenian movements in New Brunswick, but as we have reason to believe that certain facts may soon come before the public, in connection with arming and drilling of the Fenians, that will arrest public attention, we shall await developments before making any further allusions to the subject.”
Now the story told to him was either true or false, and it concerned the public deeply to know whether there was any foundation for it. The Editor of the Presbyterian now admits that it was false, but instead of admitting this plainly and honestly, it prefaces the admission by a long rigmarole about the FREEMAN – as if he, like so many other newspaper writers, found abuse of the FREEMAN a slave for every wound received in such contests, or a veil to hide defeat – and he wraps up his admission of its falsity in such words that very many of his readers would scarcely discover that he retracted at all. We publish his statement in full, and it will be seen that it opens and closes with assertions that are absolutely untrue. It requires close attention to discover from it that the writer is the person who gave circulation to a most unfounded rumour calculated to create at least much excitement, and who now most reluctantly half retracts, and that he is not a much injured gentleman. Indeed he would have us admit that if he feels warranted in making that statement, he is quite justified in making that statement, he is quite justified in making any statement, no matter what evil may be the result. No man has the right to publish a statement which may do immense injury before it can be recalled, without having first taken the greatest possible pains to ascertain that it is true. The responsibility on the editor of a paper in such cases is very great. Crescit eundo, as the editor of the Presbyterian well knows. Yet he published the story, not even as a rumour, but as if there remained no doubt of its being well founded, when in reality it was wholly unfounded. But what we are most surprised and grieved at, is that when he found his statement to be untrue, he did not say so manfully and honestly, instead of enveloping this admission in all these words:
“The Freeman’s pretext for doing so great an injustice to us, and which led him to inflict a far greater injury on himself, by his apologetic tenderness towards the Toronto Fenians, who were unquestionably the aggressors, was the circumstance that we mentioned last week that we had heard of Fenian movements in New Brunswick, but as we expected the matter would soon be brought to light, we refrained from further allusion to the subject, and awaited early developments. We felt well warranted in making this statement, and do not know why, if we felt warranted, we should not do so in a public journal. Long before a threatening letter published in one of the papers appeared, we were told, on what we deemed reliable authority, that persons blamed for watching men who were supposed to be Fenians, had been warned of the consequences. When the letter appeared, it seemed to corroborate the information we had received, and it evinced no more malice or credulity, on our part, to infer that there must be something in it, that for the Freeman to account for the letter by ascribing it to some of his political opponents. From another quarter we heard that some of the military here were blamed for drilling men who were believed to be Fenians, and just as we went to press, we heard that a sergeant of artillery would be placed under arrest, on a charge of that nature, which the News states was actually done. This was matter of general conversation last Thursday forenoon, though the Freeman, so sharp in most matters, heard nothing of it. On grounds which seemed highly probable, we concluded that the reports were true, and that the proceedings taken in this case would bring matters to light. Further inquiry has led us to doubt whether any Fenian organization has yet been effected here. We now regret that we gave publicity to the rumors, though we hold that, under the circumstances, no blame can attach to us for so doing. The idea that the Fenians may have an organization here amongst some of the most reckless members of the community, is, we know, not confined to Protestants, but, it is needless to say that respectable Roman Catholics heartily denounce the movement. Certainly men of character and property would be little less than insane to do otherwise. When the Freeman calls onus to name the Fenians and their places of meeting, he surely does not expect to deceive any one, or to induce any body to believe that so long as we are unable to name the members of a secret society whose ramifications the Catholic clergy are unable to trace out, there cannot be any such society! When he demands that we shall “instantly put the authorities in possession” of any facts known to us in reference to “illegal combinations or gatherings,” he does not, we suppose, mean to be personally insulting, and yet such language scarcely admits of any other construction. It is our right and duty to publish what, on highly probable grounds, we honestly believe to be true, and this we will do when we see fit; but we tell the Freeman, once for all, that we have no information so specific as to warrant us in turning informer, and no inclination to do so if we had. The duties of that useful personage lie entirely beyond our editorial line. The Freeman well knows, as the News has very justly pointed out, that while in the United States the Fenians do not feel it necessary to meet in secret, it is not so in Ireland, in Canada, or elsewhere in British territory; and we are only sorry that, instead of trying to make light of, or suggest a justification of the treasonable doings of these infamous plotters, as in Toronto, for example, or publishing doubts as to their existence, the Freeman does not admit their existence, condemn their machinations, and warn his readers against them.”
The conclusion of this is a poor attempt to throw the blame off his own shoulders and on to ours. What does he mean by saying that of the Fenian body? Is it that we should admit that such a body exists in the United States and in Ireland? This we have had occasion more than once to state, as a matter of news, as for instance when we noticed their great meeting at Chicago, and stated what they then avowed their objects and means to be. Is it that we should admit that they exist in New Brunswick? That would be to join the News and Presbyterian in spreading false and alarming reports. We are satisfied that no such body exists here, and that no attempt has ever been made to establish such a body. When we have any reason to apprehend that any such attempt may be made, we will not hesitate to say what we think of it in very plain and [unmistakable] language. To do this at present would not only be a work of supererogation, but it would be to some extent an admission that the Presbyterian was right, when in fact he was grievously wrong.