3 January 2018

Always ready to believe the worst

I have been doing some more research into the Jubilee Riots of 1875, mainly by reading the papers of the time.  The papers themselves are fascinating.  They are, generally speaking, far more erudite than the newspapers of today.  Many people of today like to think we are more intelligent than those of the past- but that is not borne out in the newspapers.  They used longer and more complex sentence structures as a matter of course. They needed a considerably larger vocabulary to read their newspapers than we do to read ours.

However, there are things that do not change.  I had thought that the tendency to shift blame onto others, or to claim to be "triggered" was a modern development.  However, the flight from responsibility appears to be age old.

Like the newspapers of today, the papers of the past were aimed at specific audiences, only more so.  They were openly party newspapers, aimed at specific groups of readers.  As such, they tended to be what we today refer to as 'echo chambers'.  C.S. Lewis had their number years ago when he wrote:

There is always the danger that those who think alike should gravitate together into ‘coteries’ where they will henceforth encounter opposition only in the emasculated form of rumor that the outsiders say thus and thus. The absent are easily refuted, complacent dogmatism thrives, and differences of opinion are embittered by group hostility. Each group hears not the best, but the worst, that the other groups can say.

And so it is in the articles regarding the Jubilee Riots.  The Mail is a staunch protestant voice. The Irish Canadian, on the other hand, tries to appeal to both the Catholic and Protestant Irish, for example there is this passage from the September 22nd 1875: "“Our loyal and pious- who that is of the chosen Orange fold is not good and loyal, glorious, pious and immortal- friend, the Kingston News...."  but when push comes to shove- as it did, literally, in the riots- the gloves come off.

What both papers lack is a sense of responsibility on their readers part for the riots.  (In truth, I blame the protestants myself, but it was a complex situation.)  To recap, some protestants spotted an article in the Irish Canadian of September 22nd- the same issue that praised the 'loyal, pious, etc." Orangemen- for the provincial council. The article included a description of a procession that was to take place in honour of the council. The protestant readers quickly formed a petition and sent it to the mayor asking that the procession not take place.  The Mayor sent the petition on to Archbishop Lynch, who agreed to tone down the procession.  However, the various protestant groups were out looking for Catholic processions, and, unfortunately, there was another one happening that day in honour of the Jubilee Year of 1875- hence the name 'Jubilee Riots'.

The Mail article, when reporting the first of the riots in their article for Sept. 29th, tries to shift blame away from the protestants.  They hold that some blame must fall on the archbishop for the article from the Irish Canadian: "We cannot hold the Archbishop and his advisors blameless in throwing such a firebrand into the community as his advertisement in the Irish Canadian."   He must also take some blame for not staying in his part of the city: "We may question the taste of the Archbishop in obtruding upon the community, largely Protestant, a display which would be infinitely better confined to those portions of the city set apart for the religious exercise of the Catholic people..."   The article claims that the protestants followed the procession, and did nothing as the procession went into old St Patrick's (now Our Lady of Mount Carmel) until they were attacked by some Catholics in a house near the church.  Nothing would have happened had the Catholics not started it.  Shots were fired, but apparently from nowhere.  The group of protestants are not identified.  In another article a few days later, the group that is identified in other newspapers, the Young Britons, is described as a gathering of 'respectable looking young fellows.'  The group is having a meeting whereby they resolve that they were innocent of all charges of starting the riot.  Neither they nor the Orange Lodge are to blame for the riot, says the Mail.

The Irish Canadian, on the other hand, the paper that published the article the Mail claims was the start of the riot, lays all the blame solely on the Protestants.  They make no mention of their article, nor of the petition to the mayor, nor of the archbishop's decision to tone down his procession.   In their construction, the Catholics were processing along peacefully when they were set upon by a group of Young Britons and Orangemen for no reason whatsoever.  But first, they want to heap some abuse on the Orange Lodge.  



It is indeed to us a painful duty to be compelled so frequently to notice the lamentable occurrences which are born so prolificly (sic) in this Western Province of the Orange institution; and we would fain close our eyes to many of the faults which are justly laud at the door of that body for the sake of smothering bad passions and fostering a more Christian spirit. To bear and forbear, in times of great trial of temper, is a golden rule; and he who inculcates it which sincerity is a benefactor of his kind and a blessing to the circle in which he moves. There are, however, those on whom forebearance is a virtue wasted, and with whom it is as impossible to reason intelligently and rationally as it is to change the Ethiope’s skin; and of this number we must say are many of the members of the orange organization. We are not speaking from any feeling in this matter; we speak from the hard logic of facts as they loom up in the light of day- facts it would be well for all there were less or no foundation for. 

Facts are thin for the first several paragraphs of the article, as the author continues in a similar vein for some time.  Eventually he identifies himself as one of the processionists, so he will be giving an eyewitness account.  The first problem encountered in the procession could be described as 'even younger Britons,' and the author takes advantage of the moment to heap even more abuse on the protestants.

It (the procession) turned west and kept along Queen street. Along the way several small boys amused themselves by shouting "To h-ll with the pope." The parents of these hopeful youngsters may not aware of the pious training which their children are undergoing in the lodges;  but if they lay any claim at all to the solicitude for their future well being as respectable and honored members of the community, they must at once withdraw them from these hives of waywardness and transgression, and teach them that it is enjoined from on high that, after God, they must love their neighbors as themselves, and do unto others as they would be done by.

Eventually, the author comes to the riots that began a short distance from St Patrick's.  He names the group responsible- the Young Birtons.  No mention is made of the house and its inhabitants near the church.  The shots fired came solely from the Young Britons, 'who had made up their minds to break up the procession and slaughter the weak and defenceless.".  The Irish Canadian, being a weekly that appeared every Wednesday, could or would not cover the meetings of the Orange Lodge and the Young Britons that took place during the week, where the leadership of both advised their members not to riot or assault the processions that were to happen the next Sunday, but the rank and file members would have none of it.  The Mail would claim that the Lodge and the Young Briton organizations were blameless afterwards.  The Irish Canadian will have nothing to do with that.  The Orange Lodge and the Young Britons solely are to blame.  They can expect no justice, says the author, as the mayor himself is a high ranking Orangeman.  It is only here that the Irish Canadian says that some Catholics have some blame.  Some Catholics, he says, voted for an Orange Mayor  The conclusion of the article ends with a call for defence, even as Archbishop Lynch was writing warnings to his flock to not arm themselves or fight like with like:

If, however, the catholic people of Toronto are to be made targets of for (sic) the amusement of the as vile a lot of ruffians as ever disturbed the peace and denied redress, it will then become the duty of the Catholics of this city to devise some means for protecting themselves.  He is undeserving of the name of man that would quarrel with his neighbor on "points of belief." There is but one thing meaner- he who submits his dearest rights being trampled with impunity.

With this and similar sentiments being voiced openly, and sometimes not so openly around the city, the next procession could have been nothing but a catastrophe.  It is all their fault, those wretched papists, those vile Orangemen, and it will be their fault if it happens again.  Lynch's admonition, a warning that any who came to the next procession armed to fight would lose all indulgences and spiritual benefits of the devotion.  Their words would be spread out, and professional rioters would come in from Montreal, ready for the fight.  Orangemen would come from out of town for the same reason. And thus the hall was rented, the tables were spread, the band contracted.  All that was left was for everyone to come together and dance.

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