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Tom Mann recounts the events surrounding the publication of the Don't Shoot Leaflet in his autobiography Home Again. Extract courtesy of the Marxist Internet Archive.
The opening of the year 1912 found the syndicalists exceptionally active. Our little monthly sheet had given place to a monthly paper called The Syndicalist. I was much occupied in platform work advocating militant trade unionism, and constantly urging the workers to cease relying upon parliament and to resort to direct action. Six months before this there had appeared an Open Letter to British Soldiers. This had been printed in The Irish Worker. It was not signed, but had been written by a comrade in the building trade in Liverpool. In the January number (the first) of The Syndicalist the letter was reprinted without comment.
Indeed, no special importance was attached to it, but a railwayman, Fred Crowsley, who read it and was impressed with its educational value, decided to have copies printed as a leaflet at his own expense. Having done so, he visited Aldershot and personally distributed the leaflets among the soldiers. This resulted in his arrest, trial, and sentence to four months imprisonment. Attention was next turned to the editor of The Syndicalist Guy Bowman. He was arrested, and so were the printers, Messrs B.E. and C.E. Buck of Walthamstow. The latter were sentenced to six months each, and Guy Bowman to nine months. The condemned men had no closer identification with the open letter than I had, as chairman of the Industrial Syndicalist League, which was responsible for the paper in which it appeared. I was addressing a series of meetings on behalf of the Workers Union in and around Manchester. At this time, February 1912, the miners’ strike was on, and was being conducted in a most orderly manner throughout Britain. The whole of the miners had downed tools. It was the first time in their history when complete solidarity amongst all sections of the industry had been exhibited. In Manchester, where I then was, the authorities were having premises prepared as temporary barracks, and were concentrating military forces a few miles out of the city. At public meetings, I drew attention to this, and asked what the temporary barracks were for. I described what had happened the previous year at Liverpool, when everything was orderly until those responsible for “law and order” caused the disturbances. I also directed attention to the imprisonment of my comrades in connection with the don’t-shoot letter, read the letter to the audiences, and declared I believed in every sentence of it. Thereupon I was arrested after my return to London. It is, I think, of sufficient interest to put in some of the press reports of the time, especially remembering that a Liberal government was in power, and that the prospect of a Home Rule Bill stimulated high office-holders, like Sir Edward Carson and the present Lord Chancellor, to organise rebellion against the state, supplying their followers with arms, and regularly engaging in systematic drilling and preparation for civil war. The following report is from the Daily Express for March 21, 1912:
Mr Tom Mann’s arrest - Charge against the syndicalist leader - Taken to Salford
Mr Tom Mann, the labour leader, who, as reported in the Express yesterday, was arrested in London on a charge of inciting to mutiny, will be brought up at the Salford Town Hall Police Court today.
He will be charged before Mr Spencer Hogg, the Salford stipendiary, Mr Gordon Hewart will prosecute for the police, and Mr Quilliam, a Liverpool solicitor, will appear for the defence.
Mr Tom Mann traveled in the custody of Inspector Hestor of Scotland Yard and Sergeant Markland, on the 12.15pm train from St Pancras, which was so crowded that both the labour leader and his guardians had to stand up during most of the journey.
The party of three arrived at Salford Town Hall last evening, having traveled by taxicab from Withington Station, four miles out of Manchester, where the train from London was stopped at the suggestion of the railway authorities to avoid any scene at the Central Station, Manchester.
A small crowd of socialists gathered to meet the train and were disappointed at the non-arrival of Mr Mann. A few saw his arrival at the Salford Town Hall, and to them Mr Mann raised his hat and laughed in answer to their cheers. He was taken into the charge room and the warrant was read over to him.
Mr Mann made no reply to the charges. Four local socialists paid him a visit and were allowed to spend an hour with him before he was removed to the cells.
Attorney-general’s reply to Mr Mann’s friends
By our parliamentary representative, House of Commons, Wednesday night
Syndicalism and the coal strike have obsessed men’s minds, although the long hours of debate down here have been spent on the Navy Estimates.
The sitting had only just begun when the house became aflame over Mr Tom Mann’s arrest. There were socialists and Liberals who could not bear the idea of arresting him and they fusilladed the attorney-general.
The discussion was as follows:
Mr Charles Duncan (Labour, Barrow): I desire to ask the attorney-general if he can inform the house what is the charge which is preferred against Mr Tom Mann, who was arrested yesterday in London.
Sir Rufus Isaacs: Mr Tom Mann is charged with the publication of the appeal to soldiers in the Syndicalist and the offence with which he is charged is incitement to mutiny, a common-law misdemeanor. Within the last few days application was made by the police authorities at Salford to prosecute Mr Mann. That was based on certain statements made and acts done by him during the past few days.
The person responsible
The evidence was not before me at the time when I authorised the prosecution of the three persons now at the Old Bailey. As the result of that, I cannot go into the matter further than to say this — that there is sufficient evidence of publication by him as chairman of the committee, and therefore the person mainly responsible for the publication — (Unionist cheers) and upon that application by the police and on the evidence before me I authorised the prosecution. (Loud Unionist cheers and some Liberal and socialist cries of dissent.)
Mr James O’Grady (Socialist, Leeds): Why has Mr Mann been taken to Salford, especially in view of the statement now made by the attorney-general that he has not been arrested for any action at Salford but on the fact that he is president of the Syndicalist Education League?
Sir Rufus Isaacs: That is not quite so. I referred to certain statements made by and acts done by him at Salford which would be evidence of publication.
Mr O’Grady: Am I to understand that the attorney-general has given the instruction for his arrest, and that he so gave it from the fact that he is president of the Syndicalist Education League?
Sir Rufus Isaacs: No, sir, quite the contrary. I was aware that Mr Mann was president of the league, but that, in my opinion, was not sufficient of itself to make him responsible on a criminal charge for the publication of that particular article, but in consequence of certain evidence which has come before us in the last few days, and certain things which happened at Salford in connection with them — I cannot discuss it as the matter is sub-judice — I therefore came to the conclusion that I was bound, in the ordinary course of my duty, to allow the chief constable at Salford to institute the prosecution he desired. (Loud Unionist cheers.)
Mr J.C. Wedgwood (Liberal, Newcastle-under-Lyme): Will he withdraw the prosecution against the two Bucks and Bowman in consequence of this prosecution?
Sir Rufus Isaacs: No, sir. They are made responsible because they are the publishers and printers of it, and that is a matter of defence equally open to them when the case comes to trial at the Old Bailey, but what I have been desirous of doing is to prosecute the person mainly responsible, and consequently I have authorised the prosecution of Mr Mann. (Loud Unionist cheers.)
Mr George Lansbury (Socialist, Bow and Bromley): Why is it that no proceedings have been taken against those who conspired to prevent the First Lord of the Admiralty from speaking at Belfast?
This lit up all the contending forces in the chamber. It was all a-boil with noise. Unionists laughed while Liberals cheered, and a few Irishmen threw in jagged contributions to the medley of sound. The Speaker told Mr Lansbury to put down on the notice paper any question he had to ask.
Police court proceedings
Is there a separate law for privy councilors?
Mr Tom Mann, the well-known labour leader, was arrested at his home at Southfields, Wimbledon, on Tuesday night, on a warrant issued at Salford. The arrest was made by Scotland Yard officers, on a charge preferred in connection with a speech recently delivered at Salford. He was taken to Cannon Row Police Station for the night. After his arrest Mr Mann was visited by Mr Keir Hardie, who conversed with him for some time.
Mr Mann is president of the Industrial Syndicalist Education League, under whose auspices the Syndicalist newspaper was published. Mr Tom Mann addressed a meeting called under the auspices of the Workers Union, of which he is vice-president, in the Salford Town Hall on Wednesday week, and a second meeting on Thursday evening in the Pendleton Town Hall, which is in the Salford Borough. The meetings were orderly. Notes of Mr Mann’s speeches were taken by Salford police officers.
In his speech at Pendleton Mr Mann said the government were preparing a measure to prevent freedom of speech to men like himself, who dared to talk freely and interchange opinions with some degree of courage. Two men associated, as he was, with the Syndicalist had been arrested because the paper urged their brothers in the army not to murder their brothers in the industrial field. He did not know to what extent there were plainclothes policemen in the hall. Men had been sent by the police for the express purpose of taking notes of his speeches, but even if he were arrested there were hundreds and thousands to take his place.
Mr Tom Mann was brought up before the Salford Stipendiary Magistrate, Mr Spencer Hogg, on Thursday morning on a charge of inciting to mutiny. Mr Gordon Hewart said he appeared for the director of public prosecutions, who, by reason of the gravity and the public mischief of the offences alleged against the prisoner, had found it to be his duty to act in these proceedings. There was at present one charge against the prisoner, but there would be two others. The charges would be threefold, two of them of felony and the other a common-law misdemeanor. The two charges of felony were laid under section 1 of the Incitement to Mutiny Act, 1797, which provided as follows:
“Any person who shall maliciously and advisedly endeavour to seduce any person or persons serving in His Majesty’s Forces by sea or land from his or their duty and allegiance to His Majesty, or to incite or stir up any such person or persons to commit any act of mutiny, or to make or endeavour to make any mutinous assembly, or to commit any traitorous or mutinous practice whatsoever, shall, on being legally convicted of such offence, be adjudged guilty of felony.”
The gist of the offence, said Mr Hewart, was an endeavour to seduce persons serving in His Majesty’s forces from their duty and allegiance, and to incite them to mutiny and disobedience. As to the nature of that duty and allegiance, Mr Hewart went on, there could be now no doubt or question, and it seemed hardly necessary to cite legal authority for the purpose of defining it or explaining it. A soldier had a twofold capacity, and owed duties not less in the one capacity than in the other.
The incitement was conveyed in certain printed matter entitled An Open Letter to British Soldiers, published in a periodical called The Syndicalist and it amounted, in terms, to an appeal to soldiers to disobey the commands of their officers when in certain public emergencies they were called upon to discharge their duty. Mr Hewart said he would read a portion of that Open Letter, and then, after a pause, said it would perhaps be more in consonance with the ends of justice if he did not read the letter but handed up copies for the magistrates to read. Several copies of The Syndicalist were handed to the magistrates. Mr Hewart went on to say that the paper was edited under the auspices of the Industrial Syndicalist Education League, and that in it a man named Bowman was described as publisher of the paper. I wish to refer, said Mr Hewart, to two speeches which the prisoner delivered, the one in Salford and the other in Pendleton, and which showed his responsibility not only for the original but for the subsequent publication of that matter. There was a meeting at the Salford Town Hall on March 13, a meeting said to be called in connection with the Workers Union, and a considerable number of persons were present. The prisoner referred to the strike at Liverpool last summer and to the action of the authorities with reference to the troops. He said, referring to the charge which is about to be investigated against Bowman: “Guy Bowman was editor and I, Mann, secretary of a paper called The Syndicalist and Bowman was arrested for publishing and circulating amongst soldiers this paper, which had an article asking soldiers not to shoot down their fellow working men. After his arrest, the police searched Bowman’s rooms, and actually stole copies of the paper, but I have about twenty copies of the paper left, which I will sell at twopence each on personal application on the platform for them.” Then he added: “I don’t see how I shall escape as chairman of that committee. You must not be surprised if I, too, am arrested and find myself in court.” Upon that evidence and on the further evidence that there was on sale at the meeting of March 14, the paper called The Syndicalist a copy of which was bought by a witness directly from the prisoner, Mr Hewart said he would submit that the prisoner ought to be committed to take his trial upon these charges.
Mr Spencer Hogg said there would be a remand for a week to enable the prisoner to prepare his defence.
Mr Quilliam said there was no doubt that the prisoner was willing to appear for trial, and as several respectable gentlemen were willing by the deposit of reasonable sums to secure his presence he asked for bail. He understood that the prosecution did not object to bail, so that it was left in the hands of the court.
Mr Hewart: I hear what is said and I say nothing.
Mr Quilliam said the understanding was with Mr Day, who was instructing counsel for the prosecution.
Mr Spencer Hogg (after a consultation with his fellow magistrates): There will be no bail.
Mr Quilliam: Before you say that definitely.
Mr Spencer Hogg: I have said it definitely.
The prisoner had turned from the dock with a nod of recognition to several friends, one of whom said, “Good luck, Tom,” when Mr Hewart mentioned that no evidence as to the arrest had been taken. It was agreed by Mr Quilliam that no evidence should be taken until next Thursday, when the case will be called on at eleven o’clock.
I here reprint the text of the document on which the charges were based:
Open letter to British soldiers
Men! Comrades! Brothers!
You are in the army.
So are we. You, in the army of destruction. We, in the industrial, or army of construction.
We work at mine, mill, forge, factory, or dock, etc, producing and transporting all the goods, clothing, stuffs, etc, which makes it possible for people to live.
You are workingmen’s sons.
When we go on strike to better our lot, which is the lot also of your fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, you are called upon by your officers to murder us. Don’t do it. You know how it happens. Always has happened.
We stand out as long as we can. Then one of our (and your) irresponsible brothers, goaded by the sight and thought of his and his loved ones’ misery and hunger, commits a crime on property. Immediately you are ordered to murder us, as you did at Mitchelstown, at Featherstone, at Belfast.
Don’t you know, that when you are out of the colours, and become a “civy” again, that you, like us, may be on strike, and you, like us, be liable to be murdered by other soldiers.
Boys, don’t do it.
“Thou shalt not kill,” says the Book. Don’t forget that! It docs not say, ”unless you have a uniform on”.
No! Murder is murder, whether committed in the heat of anger on one who has wronged a loved one, or by clay-piped Tommies with a rifle.
Boys, don’t do it. Act the man! Act the brother! Act the human being.
Property can be replaced! Human life, never!
The idle rich class, who own and order you about, own and order us about also. They and their friends own the land and means of life of Britain.
You don’t! We don’t!
When we kick they order you to murder us.
When you kick, you get court-martialled and cells.
Your fight is our fight. Instead of fighting against each other, we should be fighting with each other.
Out of Our loins. Our lives. Our homes. You came.
Don’t disgrace your parents, your class, by being the willing tools any longer of the master class.
You, like us, are of the slave class. When we rise, you rise; when we fall, even by your bullets, ye fall also.
England with its fertile valleys and dells, its mineral resources, its sea harvests, is the heritage of ages to us.
You no doubt joined the army out of poverty.
We work long hours for small wages at hard work, because of our poverty. And both your poverty and ours arises from the fact that, Britain with its resources, belongs to only a few people. These few, owning Britain, own our jobs. Owning our jobs they own our very lives. Comrades, have we called in vain? Think things out and refuse any longer to murder your kindred. Help us to win back Britain for the British, and the world for the workers.
On March 25, Mr Josiah Wedgwood raised the question in parliament by an amendment to a Treasury vote. The following report is from Hansard of that date:
Mr Wedgwood: I beg to move, as an amendment, to leave out the word “now”, and at the end of the question to add the words “upon this day six months”.
I do so in order to enter a protest against the institution by the government of prosecutions of the press outside India and Ireland. I would remind this house it has not been the practice for many years for prosecutions of this nature to be indulged in. Prosecutions by the state are always risky business. Prosecutions of the Press have long been notable by their absence. It is true that in Ireland and India we have seen such prosecutions, but they are unknown in England, and for a very good reason. Before the government undertake a prosecution of the press there are many risks to be considered. First, there is the risk of increasing the evil by giving wide publicity to printed matter in an obscure publication. There is the classical case of the prosecution instituted against Paine’s Age of Reason, and Paine’s Rights of Man, and Campbell of these said:
“Its circulation was infinitely increased by the attorney-general filing an information against the author.”
Then, secondly, there is the risk of interfering with the open expression of opinion and driving it underground. Besides, there is the risk of giving the writer publicity for his libel. I come to the third risk, that of inflaming the opinion, both of those prosecuted and of their friends. There have been some recent prosecutions and certain unfortunate men have gone to prison. They are not even socialists; they are men who have no interest in politics; they cannot be decreed to be red-hot revolutionists. Their friends throughout the length and breadth of the country feel the injustice done by the government to them. Then in regard to this risk of publicity and inflaming public opinion. It was said that Grenville issued two hundred injunctions against the press in six months. The learned attorney-general is beginning to learn the lesson. You have already the cases of The Syndicalist, the Labour Leader, Hull Worker, Forward, Justice, and Freedom on your hands. How many more? We are beginning to foresee that by reason of the arrest of Mr Tom Mann, and possibly that of Mr Victor Grayson, there are others to come. The government has great powers, but it is not always expedient to exercise them. There must be no feeling that they are pandering to panic. There must be absolute impartiality not only of intention, but it must be conveyed to the public mind. Everyone knows the unlimited power of the state in matters of this nature, but before exercising such powers it is always wise in making use of these weapons to bear in mind a certain amount of proportion in the application of any act of parliament. It should be the duty of the law officers of the crown to consult the crown before instituting prosecutions. Was it done in this case? There is a regular phoenix of a struggle coming up in every age. There is the question whether prosecutions of the press have ever been justified. The best men in every age have been against it. Milton, Erskine, and Macaulay were against them. There has always been some provocation, some fear-inspiring prosecution. The clamour of propertied classes has again and again deafened the government to the still, quiet voice of reason and liberty. What did Erskine say:
“I will not say which party is right, but God forbid that honest opinion should ever become a crime.”
There is a curious similarity between the present position and the propriety of basing prosecutions on the act of 1797, when there was the real danger of the mutiny at the Nore. The bill of 1797 was not merely the outcome of the anti-Jacobin terror: the mutiny was fresh in their memory, and the bill was introduced to put a stop to inciting to mutiny. In the house, Sheridan got up and opposed the bill, but when one looks back on the condition of the country under Castlereagh and Pitt one cannot help looking on it as a redeeming feature in an age of tyranny that Fox, Grey and Sheridan night after night led their little band in the lobby against the bill. We are carrying on their trade; honourable members opposite are carrying on the trades of your ancestors, when you go into the lobby for coercion and tyranny. Then the prosecution took place. The same state prosecutions that we are enjoying today. Hardy, Home Tooke, Gilbert Wakefield, and others, were prosecuted, and, of course, not only the principals but the printers as well. The only difference is that some of them got off in those days. Those who did not get off had fourteen years hard labour at Botany Bay. Those who did get off, got off because in those days they were defended by men with magic voices like that of Erskine. I want to quote one short passage by Erskine directly affecting the problem before us, and dealing with the subject of the freedom of the press:
“Tempests occasionally shatter our dwellings and dissipate our commerce; but they scourge before them the lazy elements which without them would stagnate into pestilence. In like manner Liberty herself, God’s last and best gift to his creatures, must be taken just as she is. You might pare her down into bashful regularity, and shape her into a perfect model of severe, scrupulous law, but she would then be Liberty no longer; and we must be content to die under the lash of this inexorable law that we had exchanged for the banners of freedom.”
These words are as true today as they were then. They are as practical in their application at the present juncture as they were then. I ask all Liberals who know when they read history that Erskine was right and the government wrong, to express Liberal views now and say that the government ought to be regarded as wrong now, as it was then. There was the case of prosecution of Muir, of Edinburgh, who was tried in 1793, and this is what Erskine May says of the trial:
“Every incident of this trial marked the unfairness and cruel spirit of his judges.”
The same might be seen today, as I saw it the other day at the Old Bailey. How do we judge the trial of Muir? If anybody goes to Edinburgh he will see on the Calton Hill the Martyr’s Memorial. Are these people who are being prosecuted now more extreme than those who were prosecuted then? Let me quote from Charles James Fox. He said in the House of Commons — I do not think he could have said it outside:
“If his opinion were asked by the people as to their obedience he should tell them that it was no longer a question of moral obligation and duty, but of prudence.”
Is not that the position today? I do not wish to go about the country saying that the people who issued that pamphlet were right, but I do not intend to go about the country and say it is wrong. I will tell them that it is dangerous to say it so long as the prosecutions are carried on in this way by the government. The rage of the government for prosecuting the press went on till 1831. It was revived in the famous prosecution of Cobbett, and at that time there was the same solid ground for the prosecution that there is at the present day. There was the same terror among the upper classes. There had been the riots at Merthyr Tydvil, when seventy or eighty men who had struck for higher wages were shot. It must be remembered that Cobbett had already spent two years hard labour in prison before that time. He thundered against these iniquities in the Political Register, and directly a weak government came into power in 1831 he was prosecuted by the Liberal attorney-general, just as the Liberal attorney-general is now the prosecutor in this case. I should like to read the passage from the Political Register of 1831, which, I regret to say is thoroughly applicable to the present circumstances:
“I may say for myself that I wrote and published under the party of Peel for twenty-one years and under six attorneys-general called Tories; that I never heard of a prosecution all the while from any one of them; and that the Whigs had not been in power more than about twenty-one days before a deadly-meant prosecution of me was begun; and now, at the end of only six months, there have been more prosecutions against the press than during the three years that the Duke of Wellington was in power.”
I may mention that Cobbett was tried, like Bowman, at the Old Bailey. He was acquitted. It is noticeable that from that date to this — from 1831 to 1912 — prosecutions of the press of this nature have ceased. Erskine May is emphatic in his history that it was from the trial of Cobbett that the freedom of the press really dates. This is what Erskine May says about it:
“However small a minority, however unpopular, irrational, eccentric, perverse, or unpatriotic in sentiment, however despised or pitied, it may speak out forcibly in the full confidence of toleration. The majority, conscious of right, and assured of its proper influence in the state, neither forces nor resents opposition.”
That was the position until this year. Now we see a change. I can quote John Stuart Mill on the same question. He writes in On Liberty:
“If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.”
These are the opinions of Liberalism today, just as they were the opinions of Liberalism in the time of John Stuart Mill. I come to the consideration of this Open Letter, which has been the cause of these prosecutions. I do not want to read the whole of that letter to the house, but this is the material passage:
“When we go on strike to better our lot, which is the lot also of your fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters, you are called upon by your officers to murder us. Don’t do it. You know how it happens. Always has happened. We stand out as long as we can. Then one of our (and your) irresponsible brothers, goaded by the sight and thought of his and his loved ones’ misery and hunger, commits a crime on property. Immediately you are ordered to murder us, as you did at Mitchelstown, at Featherstone, at Belfast.”
That is the strongest paragraph in the whole of this letter. It is for printing that paragraph that these prosecutions have been undertaken. I do not want to tell the soldiers who have taken an oath that it is their duty under any circumstances to break that oath, but we all know that it is their duty to break that oath under certain circumstances. No man would be justified in shooting his father or his brother at the order of any of us. To show the spirit of the people who are writing these protests, who have been sent to prison, or who are being prosecuted, I am going to read to the house the defence of the man Crowsley. He was a common fireman, employed by the London and North-Western Railway Company, and an absolutely sober, honest, working man. I have met him since, and I know him very well. He is getting about 33 shillings per week wages. At his own expense he takes this Open Letter and has 3000 copies of it made, paying 15 shillings for the privilege. He gets home at three o’clock on Sunday morning, and goes by an early train to Aldershot and distributes these leaflets. This is his defence:
“I am not guilty of any crime. Had I been guilty my conscience would tell me so. The law you say I have broken was made over one hundred years ago, when the middle and working classes had no voice in making the law. It was made by a class who live on the labour of another class. But if passed yesterday, I would still tell you that there is a higher law which says, ‘Thou shalt not commit murder.’ I have simply made an earnest appeal to the honour of soldiers not to shoot their brothers who are fighting for the right to live. If that is breaking your law, so much the worse for your unjust law. You say my action was undermining society. If society will not stand the attacks of truth, does not that prove the rottenness of your society, and the sooner a more just state exists the better? Your prison missionary called me a traitor for calling attention to the creed 296 he preaches. You and he are entitled to your opinions, and I to mine. But you are traitors to your creed. You say with your mouth, ‘Love one another.’ In your heart you say, ‘Shoot, and shoot straight!’ Why are you prosecuting me for distributing leaflets which preach what Tolstoy preached all his life in Russia, undisturbed. You may send me to prison, I shall not be the first or the last to go there unjustly. But you will have to send many more before you can hope to suppress the truth. And you will stand condemned for ever before the eyes of all truth and freedom-loving people. I know and believe every word on the leaflets to be true. Why are you so afraid of the truth?’
Is that the sort of man you want to send to prison? Is that the sort of man that is worth the government’s breaking a tradition of sixty years in order to prosecute? God forbid that honest opinion should ever be made a crime.
The attorney-general (Sir Rufus Isaacs), on a point of order Sir, T desire to raise the question, for guidance from you, as to how far we are entitled to discuss the merits or demerits of cases which are sub-judice. The difficulty I shall be placed in is this, that if my honourable friend refers to cases of this kind, which he knows are actually sub-judice at present, and others, it places me in the position, if I reply to the case made against me, of having to deal with evidence which has not yet been sifted, and upon which I have had to act merely as prima-facie evidence. I have been careful always to state that is the view of the case. I find it difficult to deal with the whole of the evidence relating to these matters while the cases are still pending trial. I thought the rule of the house was that we could not discuss the details of cases which were sub-judice, and I submit we cannot go into them.
Mr Speaker: I think the house has always set its face against discussing any question which is still sub-judice. Up to the point the honourable member has reached I understood those cases were disposed of.
Sir Rufus Isaacs: This case and the case actually quoted are sub-judice.
Mr Speaker: Is it under appeal?
Sir Rufus Isaacs: No. As my honourable friend knows, Crowsley is committed for trial.
Mr Speaker: I thought the honourable member referred to six months hard labour. I think the honourable member will see that, in the interests of that particular individual and any others whose cases are coming on, it would be most undesirable to refer to it except just incidentally. Of course, what he says on one side may be contradicted on the other, and it would be very undesirable that observations should be made with reference to a case which is still going on. As to any cases which have been concluded, and which have not been appealed against, of course the honourable member would be entitled to make any comments which he thinks right.
Mr Wedgwood: I certainly accept that. The case of Crowsley is a little peculiar because he offers no defence except one which is of no value in a court of Law. It is not really a new thing in this country for people to be urged not to shoot under certain circumstances when they are in the army. In the American War of 1780 it was quite a common thing for officers to resign their commissions sooner than go out to the United States and shoot their brothers there, and at the present date we have the case of the honourable member (Mr, Hamersley) saying that under no circumstances would he allow his son to go and shoot down Unionists in Ireland — a very proper position to take up. May I say, in the absence of the honourable member (Mr MacCallum Scott), that he gave me this case to speak about, and gave me the extracts from the speech of the honourable member (Mr Hamersley). I do not think it is necessary to say more about it than that those of us who are against these prosecutions would be equally against any prosecution of the honourable member (Mr Hamersley) or anyone else who said anything of a similar nature. I will not refer to the prosecution of Mr Tom Mann except to say that there was no question of the soldiers coming in at all. The soldiers were not at the meeting. There you have a case of interference with simple freedom of speech alone, and no direct incitement to anyone. After the outburst of public opinion all over the country among the working classes over that case, I think honourable members can begin dimly to imagine what is going to happen if this series of prosecutions goes on. Already the working classes have a very shrewd suspicion of the judiciary of this country. They do not think they are getting fair play. Are all these cases which are coming before us likely to increase the respect of the working class for the judicial bench? We have the extraordinary ex-parte statement of the Recorder the other day in the charge to the jury. I was very glad that he made that charge to the grand jury, because it merely expressed in words what we know all the people who have to try cases are feeling. However judicial and impartial they may be, they are all human beings like ourselves, and they all, naturally, take either one view or the other in politics. I consider it quite natural that Sir Forrest Fulton should think in that way and should speak in that way; but I am quite certain that the people who read that speech and who see the extraordinarily severe sentences which were given will put two and two together and recognise that the working classes have no chance under existing circumstances of getting justice if they give expression to syndicalist views. I come now to the present state of affairs and the difficulty in which the attorney-general has put the government.
They have proceeded against the syndicalists and against Mr Tom Mann, well-known politicians, but people who have no personal friends in this house. Are they going to proceed against people who have personal friends in this house as well? I asked a question today about the Labour Leader. The Labour Leader is not indeed the organ of the Labour Party, but it is intimately associated with the Labour Party, and the chairman of that party, Mr W.C. Anderson, is I think chairman of directors of the Labour Leader, and Crowsley is also one of the directors. They have no editor at present. The Labour Leader came out on March 22 with this in its leading article on the front page:
Before the present prosecutions were instituted, we urged the soldiers to refuse to shoot their kinsmen who are battling against poverty if they were ordered to do so, and we repeat that advice now.”
You know what that means. The Labour Leader intends either to share the fate of the Syndicalist or to show that the government is partial in the selection of those people who are to be prosecuted. The Labour Leader is not by any means the only paper that is putting in paragraphs like that. Are they all going to be prosecuted? Is every man who sells one of Tolstoy’s penny pamphlets, and are the publishers and booksellers to be prosecuted by the government for making use of paragraphs exactly like that? Really, it was madness that the government should start on this scheme of prosecution. Almost more unpleasant to deal with than the case of the Labour Leader is the case of honourable members opposite who sit for Irish constituencies. I have neither the time nor the taste to scavenge in the old speeches of honourable members opposite. I do not know whether they have ever specifically made speeches urging that soldiers should not shoot upon the men of the North of Ireland, but honourable members opposite may be quite certain that the Incitement to Mutiny Act of 1797 was not the only act passed in those years of Tory reaction. There were the Treasonable Practices Act, and the Seditious Meetings Act. Is the government going to confine its attentions to the syndicalists and the Labour parties, and let off the right honourable gentleman (Sir E. Carson), Privy Councillor, ex-Law Officer? Let me read an extract from a speech by the honourable and gallant gentleman (Captain Craig). In September, 1911, he said:
“You need not be a bit afraid of being prosecuted for sedition or rebellion. Let the government try to lay a finger on any man for asserting the principles of freedom in civil and religious matters, and they would light a fire in Protestant Ulster which would never be put out.”
I should be the last man to suggest for a moment that it would be an advantage to the state to prosecute the honourable and gallant gentleman for making a seditious statement.
Mr Malcolm: In what part of that statement was the sedition?
Mr Wedgwood: “Let the government try to lay a finger on any man for asserting the principles of freedom, and they would light a fire in Protestant Ulster which would never be put out. You need not be a bit afraid of being prosecuted for sedition or rebellion.”
Captain Craig: So far as we are concerned we repeat the statement in this house and take all responsibility.
Mr Wedgwood: I was quite certain the honourable and gallant gentleman would. He would repeat it outside too, with perfect safety, I believe; but whether it would be perfectly safe a month or two hence, when we have had a few more of these prosecutions, and when public opinion is beginning to be a little afraid of honourable members opposite, as they are really afraid of the syndicalists now, I am not quite so certain.
Captain Craig: We are quite prepared to take all risks. We are not going to funk it in any way.
Mr Wedgwood: We know the honourable and gallant gentleman. Let me now give a quotation from the Reverend William Wright — I do not know who he is, but it seems to me that he likewise incurs risks for the free expression of his opinion. He said at Newtownards, County Down, on November 10: “In a very short time they would have taught their young men to resist Home Rule and also to handle arms. He thought there was no hope for them except the hope of using arms.”
I do not think for a moment he has not a perfect right to say that, just as much as Mr Tom Mann had a perfect right to make his speech, just as much as the Syndicalist has a perfect right to publish the open letter. It would be very difficult for the attorney-general to be able to distinguish between the Rev William Wright and Mr Tom Mann.
Marquess of Tullibardine: Is it right that Mr Tom Mann’s name should be brought in? He is under trial.
Mr Wedgwood: The Noble Lord must really understand that Mr Tom Mann and Frederick Crowsley are made of the same material as the honourable and gallant gentleman (Captain Craig). They are quite willing to stand the racket. They are out to fight for freedom just as much as the honourable and gallant gentleman.
Sir Rufus Isaacs: The honourable gentleman is under a misapprehension. He has several times stated that Mr Tom Mann was being prosecuted for a speech that he made. That is not a point in the prosecution at all. The only use that is made of the speech is that therein he stated emphatically that he was, according to our view, responsible for the publication of the Syndicalist, and he made other statements of that character. The speech in itself, however violent, is not the subject of the prosecution.
Mr Wedgwood: I am very glad of the right honourable gentleman’s interruption. That means to say, I take it, that it is only printed words which are prosecutable, and that a man may say what he likes. It seems to me that there are three courses open to the government. They may stop where they are and leave the prosecution at the Syndicalist, in which case they will incur, justly, the charge of partiality. It will be said of them that they are afraid to prosecute the Labour Leader on account of the Labour vote, and that they are afraid to prosecute honourable Members opposite because of arousing the fury of Ulster. These accusations will be made and will have, at least in the public mind, something of the savour of truth about them. Or else the other course open to the government is to prosecute in every case, to proceed against every newspaper, and to see that they all get six months and nine months hard labour, and in order to carry out their policy to the logical conclusion, they should include speeches as well as publications in newspapers. Or else the other course open to them — the course which I think they ought to adopt — is to amnesty the prisoners, Messrs Bowman and Buck, and to cease prosecuting Tom Mann. Let them fairly recognise that they have made a mistake. Let them fairly recognise that on no principle of English tradition ought these prosecutions ever to have taken place, that a man is still able in a free country to express freely his opinions, however detrimental they may be considered to be by the vast majority of mankind. Let them recognise the position, and cease these prosecutions. Let them amnesty the prisoners, and then at last we shall have put an end to all those prosecutions of the press and all this interference with the liberty of Englishmen, which we have fought for in past generations and which we pride ourselves upon still. Class feeling is strong enough in this country. You may embitter it. There is no sign of the bitterness wearing down. Are you going to embitter it by having the working classes smarting under an obvious injustice? Put that matter right, and start afresh with the clean slate which you are so often talking about. I plead with the government not in the interests of these men — they do not ask mercy, they do not want mercy — I plead with the government in the interests of Liberal tradition and in the interests of the traditions of our country, of which we all, on whichever side of the house we sit, are justly and rightly proud.