CELT document E800002-033

Moral Force

Thomas Osborne Davis

Edited by T.W. Rolleston

Moral Force

Moral Force


THERE are two ways of success for the Irish—arms and persuasion. They have chosen the latter. They have resolved to win their rights by moral force. For this end they have confederated their names, their moneys, their thoughts, and their resolves. For this they meet, organise, and subscribe. For this they learn history, and forget quarrels; and for this they study their resources, and how to increase them.

For moral success internal union is essential.

Ireland, through all its sects and classes, must demand Repeal before the English Minister will be left without a fair reason to resist it, and not till then we be in a state to coerce his submission.

Conciliation of all sects, classes, and parties who oppose us, or who still hesitate, is essential to moral force. For if, instead of leading a man to your opinions by substantial kindness, by zealous love, and by candid and wise teaching, you insult his tastes and his prejudices, and force him either to adopt your cause or to resist it—if, instead of slow persuasion, your weapons are bullying and intolerance, then your profession of moral force is a lie, and a lie which deceives no one, and your attacks will be promptly resisted by every man of spirit.

The Committee of the Repeal Association have of late begun to attend to the Registries. The majority of Irish electors belong to the middle class; and if all of that class who could register and vote did register and vote, it would be out of the landlords' power to coerce them. The landlords have awoken to a sense of their danger. They begin to know that if once the quiet patriots of this country  p.272 conclude that reform of the landlords is hopeless, the only barrier between them and their tenants will sink, and they will sink too.

There will be less landlordism next election—at least we warn the landlords that there must be less.

If, then, the majority of members chosen by the middle class oppose Domestic Legislation, the middle class is suspected of not being truly national—the sincerity of the People is made doubtful—an impediment is opposed to Repeal, which the Repeal Association properly strive to upset.

Therefore do they and we urge the Repealers to serve notices diligently, accurately, and at once. Therefore do they and we prompt them to attend at the Sessions, and boldly claim their rights as citizens contributing to the State, and entitled to a vote in electing its managers; and therefore do they and we advise each constituency to consider well whether they have or can procure a representative whose purity of life, undoubted honesty, knowledge of politics, and devoted zeal to secure Domestic Government fit him to legislate in St. Stephen's, or to agitate in the Corn Exchange, or wherever else nationality may have a temple.

We say, the advocacy of a “Domestic Legislature,” because that is what Ireland wants. We are a province, drained by foreign taxation and absentees, governed by a foreign legislature and executive. We seek to have Ireland governed by an Irish senate and executive for herself, and by Irishmen; and although a man shall add to this a claim for a share in the government of the empire, and of course a consent to give taxes and soldiers, therefore that (though to us it seems unwise) is not such a difference as should make us divide. He is a Repealer of the Union as decidedly as if he never called himself a Federalist. Such Repealing Federalists are Messrs. Crawford, Wyse,  p.273 John O'Brien, Caulfield, Ross, O'Malley, O'Hagan, Bishop Kennedy, and numbers of others in and out of the Association. In selecting or in agitating about Members we must therefore never forget that a Federalist is quite as likely to be national as a technical Repealer, and that if his morals and ability be better than those of a so-called Repeal candidate, he is the better man.

We have also classed morals, ability, and zeal as being quite as requisite as national opinions in a Representative.

If our Members were a majority in the House, it might not be very moral, but at least it would have some show of excuse if we sent in a flock of pledged delegates to vote Repeal, regardless of their powers or principles; though even then we might find it hard to get rid of the scoundrels after Repeal was carried, and when Ireland would need virtuous and unremitting wisdom to make her prosper.

But now, when our whole Members are not a sixth of the Commons, and when the English Whigs are as hostile to Repeal as the English Tories, and more hostile to it than the Irish Tories—now, it is plain we must get weight for our opinions by the ability and virtue of our Members; and therefore we exhort the People, as they love purity, as they prize religion, as they are true to themselves, to Ireland, and to liberty, to spurn from their hustings any man who comes there without purity and wisdom, though he took or kept a thousand Repeal pledges.

We want men who are not spendthrifts, drunkards, swindlers—we want honest men—men whom we would trust with our private money or our family's honour; and sooner than see faded aristocrats and brawling profligates shelter themselves from their honest debtors by a Repeal membership, we would leave Tories and Whigs undisturbed in their seats, and strive to carry Repeal by other measures.


Conciliation, virtue, and wisdom are our moral means of success. They must be used and sought on the hustings as well as in the Conciliation Hall. We must not prematurely, and at Heaven knows what distance from an election, force a good and able man to accept a pledge or quarrel with us. Pledges are extreme things, hardly constitutional, and highly imprudent in a well-governed country. Nevertheless, they are sometimes needed, as are sharper remedies; and such need will exist here at the general election. No man must go in for any place where the popular will prevails unless he is a Repealer or a Federalist; and, what is equally essential, an upright, unstained, and zealous man, who will work for Ireland and do her credit. But it seems to us quite premature to insist on those pledges from honourable, proud, and patriotic men now, who will, in all likelihood, be with us before an election comes, provided they are treated with the respect and forbearance due to them whether they join us or not.

These are some of the canons of moral force; and if, as we trust, Ireland can succeed without cannon of another kind, it must be by using those we have here mustered.

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Title (uniform): Moral Force

Author: Thomas Osborne Davis

Editor: T.W. Rolleston

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compiled by: Beatrix Färber

proof corrections by: Margaret Bonar

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2. Second draft.

Extent: 2360 words

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Publisher: CELT: Corpus of Electronic Texts: a project of University College Cork

Address: College Road, Cork, Ireland—http://www.ucc.ie/celt

Date: 2005

Date: 2008

Distributor: CELT online at University College, Cork, Ireland.

CELT document ID: E800002-033

Availability: Available with prior consent of the CELT programme for purposes of academic research and teaching only.

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  • First published in The Nation. [No date given.]

Editions of this text; other writings by Thomas Davis

  1. Thomas Davis, Essays Literary and Historical, ed. by D. J. O'Donoghue, Dundalk 1914.
  2. Sir Charles Gavan Duffy (ed.), Thomas Davis, the memoirs of an Irish patriot, 1840–1846. 1890.
  3. Thomas Osborne Davis, Literary and historical essays 1846. Reprinted 1998, Washington, DC: Woodstock Books.
  4. Essays of Thomas Davis. New York, Lemma Pub. Corp. 1974, 1914 [Reprint of the 1914 ed. published by W. Tempest, Dundalk, Ireland, under the title 'Essays literary and historical'.]
  5. Thomas Davis: essays and poems, with a centenary memoir, 1845–1945. Dublin, M.H. Gill and Son, 1945. [Foreword by an taoiseach, Éamon de Valera.]
  6. Angela Clifford, Godless colleges and mixed education in Ireland: extracts from speeches and writings of Thomas Wyse, Daniel O'Connell, Thomas Davis, Charles Gavan Duffy, Frank Hugh O'Donnell and others. Belfast: Athol, 1992.

Selected further reading

  1. Arthur Griffith (ed.), Thomas Davis: the thinker & teacher; the essence of his writings in prose and poetry. Dublin: Gill 1914.
  2. William O'Brien, The influence of Thomas Davis: a lecture delivered by William O'Brien, M.P., at the City Hall, Cork, on 5th November 1915. Cork: Free Press Office, 1915.
  3. Johannes Schiller, Thomas Osborne Davis, ein irischer Freiheitssänger. Wiener Beiträge zur englischen Philologie, Bd. XLVI. Wien und Leipzig, W. Braumüller, 1915.
  4. Michael Quigley (ed.), Pictorial record: centenary of Thomas Davis and young Ireland. Dublin [1945].
  5. Joseph Maunsell Hone, Thomas Davis (Famous Irish Lives). 1934.
  6. M. J. MacManus (ed.), Thomas Davis and Young Ireland. Dublin: The Stationery Office, 1945.
  7. J. L. Ahern, Thomas Davis and his circle. Waterford, 1945.
  8. Michael Tierney, 'Thomas Davis: 1814–1845'. Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 34:135 (1945) 300–10.
  9. Theodore William Moody, 'The Thomas Davis centenary lecture in Newry'. An t-Iubhar (=Newry) 1946, 22–6.
  10. D. R. Gwynn, O'Connell, Davis and the Colleges Bill (Centenary Series 1). Oxford and Cork, 1948.
  11. D. R. Gwynn, 'John E. Pigot and Thomas Davis'. Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 38 (1949) 145–57.
  12. D. R. Gwynn, 'Denny Lane and Thomas Davis'. Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 38 (1949) 15–28.
  13. N. N., Clár cuimhneacháin: comóradh i gcuimhne Thomáis Daibhis, Magh Ealla, 1942. Baile Átha Cliath (=Dublin) 1942.
  14. Christopher Preston, 'Commissioners under the Patriot Parliament, 1689'. Irish Ecclesiastical Record, 5th ser., 74:8 (1950) 141–51.
  15. W.B. Yeats, Tribute to Thomas Davis: with an account of the Thomas Davis centenary meeting held in Dublin on November 20th, 1914, including Dr. Mahaffy's prohibition of the 'Man called Pearse,' and an unpublished protest by 'A.E.', Cork 1965.
  16. Theodore William Moody, 'Thomas Davis and the Irish nation'. Hermathena, 103 (1966) 5–31.
  17. Malcolm Johnston Brown, The politics of Irish literature: from Thomas Davis to W. B. Yeats. Seattle (University of Washington Press) 1973.
  18. Eileen Sullivan, Thomas Davis. Lewisburg, New Jersey: Bucknell University Press, 1978.
  19. Mary G. Buckley, Thomas Davis: a study in nationalist philosophy. Ph.D. Thesis, National University of Ireland, at the Department of Irish History, UCC, 1980.
  20. Giulio Giorello, "A nation once again": Thomas Osborne Davis and the construction of the Irish "popular" tradition. History of European Ideas, 20:1–3 (1995) 211–17.
  21. John Neylon Molony, A soul came into Ireland: Thomas Davis 1814–1845. Dublin 1995.
  22. Robert Somerville-Woodward, "Two 'views of the Irish language': O'Connell versus Davis." The History Review: journal of the UCD History Society, 9 (1995) 44–50.
  23. John Neylon Molony, 'Thomas Davis: Irish Romantic idealist'. In: Richard Davis; Jennifer Livett; Anne-Maree Whitaker; Peter Moore (eds.), Irish-Australian studies: papers delivered at the eighth Irish-Australian Conference, Hobart July 1995 (Sydney 1996) 52–63.
  24. David Alvey, 'Thomas Davis. The conservation of a tradition.' Studies; an Irish quarterly review, 85 (1996) 37–42.
  25. Harry White, The keeper's recital: music and cultural history in Ireland, 1770–1970. (Cork 1998).
  26. Joseph Langtry; Brian Fay,'The Davis influence.' In: Joseph Langtry (ed.), A true Celt: Thomas Davis, The Nation, rebellion and transportation: a series of essays. (Dublin 1998) 30–38.
  27. Joseph Langtry, 'Thomas Davis (1814–1845).' In: Joseph Langtry (ed.), A true Celt: Thomas Davis, The Nation, rebellion and transportation: a series of essays. (Dublin 1998) 2–7.
  28. Patrick Maume, 'Young Ireland, Arthur Griffith, and republican ideology: the question of continuity.' Éire–Ireland, 34:2 (1999) 155–74.
  29. Sean Ryder, 'Speaking of '98: Young Ireland and republican memory'. Éire–Ireland, 34:2 (1999) 51–69.
  30. Ghislaine Saison, 'L'écriture de l'histoire chez la Jeune Irlande: quelle histoire pour une nation du consensus et de la réconciliation?' In: Centre de recherche inter-langues angevin, Écriture(s) de l'histoire: Actes du colloque des 2,3 et 4 décembre 1999. (Angers 2001) 435–46.
  31. Gerry Kearns, 'Time and some citizenship: nationalism and Thomas Davis.' Bullán: an Irish Studies Review, 5:2 (2001) 23–54.
  32. Helen Mulvey, Thomas Davis and Ireland: a biographical study. Washington, D.C., Catholic University of America Press, 2003.

Davis, Thomas Osborne (1910). ‘Moral Force’. In: Thomas Davis: Selections from his prose and poetry‍. Ed. by T. W. Rolleston. Dublin and London: The Talbot Press, pp. 271–274.

You can add this reference to your bibliographic database by copying or downloading the following:

  author 	 = {Thomas Osborne Davis},
  title 	 = {Moral Force},
  editor 	 = {T. W. Rolleston},
  booktitle 	 = {Thomas Davis: Selections from his prose and poetry},
  publisher 	 = {The Talbot Press},
  address 	 = {Dublin and London},
  date 	 = {1910},
  pages 	 = {271–274}


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Creation: by Thomas Davis

Date: 1844(?)

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Keywords: literary; prose; 19c

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