A new leader of considerable stature soon emerged. James Fintan Lalor argued that the Irish Confederation had to focus on the land issue to win greater support for Repeal.
He demanded that the peasants should have security of tenure. His ideas, promising a path to direct action, stirred much debate. Mitchel was an enthusiastic supporter.
Lalor explained that only a prevention of food exports would stop the starvation of the people and he suggested that the peasants hold on to their produce and occupy the ports. He proposed for May 1847 a rent and harvest strike which he called ‘moral insurrection’.
These ideas soon led to a further split, the men of property in Young Ireland (notably William Smith-O’Brien and D’Arcy Magee) loudly objecting, and they took the majority with them. They had a dream that the landlords might eventually join the nationalist movement.
The ideas of Lalor and Mitchel were prescient but fell on rocky ground. When Lalor proclaimed that the people should be the proprietors of the soil, the divisions only grew worse. Mitchel’s support for slavery – a pressing issue of the time despite the Abolition Act of 1833, for there were still areas of the British Empire (and of course the Americas) where slavery persisted – though of course not in Ireland – only served to exacerbate differences and hasten a further split.
Mitchel was increasingly convinced that Lalor’s ideas were correct. He began to advocate a rent strike and open resistance to food exports to end the starvation.
He proclaimed that Repeal could only be achieved with strong lower-class support.
Mitchel was beginning to enunciate ideas that would be at the heart of all future Republican agitation.
… more later …