Michael Collins: “Threats” played no part in signing the Treaty

photo of Michael Collins speaking 1922 Clonakilty County Cork

Michael Collins speaking, Clonakilty, County Cork, 1922

A number of historians and biographers have reiterated the erroneous contention that the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 was signed in response to threats of extraordinary military action by the British.

However, this was roundly refuted by Michael Collins himself; who, excepting only Arthur Griffith, certainly carried the lion’s share of work, responsibility, and decision-making in those negotiations.

Others’ writings about Collins often seem to be more readily before the public these days, than the unquestionably more valuable writings of the man himself.

His own cogent statements on this issue are characteristically blunt and penetrating:

It has been variously stated that the Treaty was signed under duress.  

“I did not sign the Treaty under duress, except in the sense that the position as between Ireland and England, historically, and because of superior forces on the part of England, has always been one of duress.  

“The element of duress was present when we agreed to the Truce, because our simple right would have been to beat the English out of Ireland.  There was an element of duress in going to London to negotiate. But there was not, and could not have been, any personal duress.  

“The threat of “immediate and terrible war” did not matter overmuch to me.  The position appeared to be then exactly as it appears now.   The British would not, I think have declared terrible and immediate war upon us.  

“… The threat of immediate and terrible war was probably bluff. The immediate tactics would surely have been to put the offer of July 20, which the British considered a very good offer, before the country, and if rejected, they would have very little difficulty in carrying their own people into a war against Ireland.

“I am not impressed by the talk of duress, nor by threats of a declaration of immediate and terrible war.  Britain has not made a declaration of war upon Egypt, neither has she made a declaration of war upon India.  But is the conflict less terrible because of the absence of such a declaration?  

“We must not be misled by words and phrases.  Unquestionably the alternative to the Treaty, sooner or later, was war, and if the Irish Nation had accepted that, I should have gladly accepted it.  …

“To me it would have been a criminal act to refuse to allow the Irish Nation to give its opinion as to whether it would accept this settlement or resume hostilities.  That I maintain, is a democratic stand.  It has always been the stand of public representatives who are alive to their responsibilities

“The Irish struggle has always been for freedom – freedom from English occupation, from English interference, from English domination – not for freedom with any particular label attached to it.  

“What we fought for at any particular time was the greatest measure of freedom obtainable at that time, and it depended upon our strength whether the claim was greater than at another time or lesser than at another time.

“When the national stiuation was very bad we lay inert; when it improved a little we looked for Repeal of the Union; when it receded again we looked for Home Rule under varying trade names;  when it went still worse we spoke of some form of devolution.  When our strength became greater our aim became higher, and we strove for  greater measure of freedom under the name of Republic.  But it was freedom we sought for, not the name of the form of government we should adopt when we got our freedom.

(Excerpted from “Advance and Use Our Liberties” from the Treaty debates, 1922; included in:)

“A Path to Freedom
by Michael Collins

Read more:
The Assassination of Michael Collins:
What Happened At Béal na mBláth?
by S M Sigerson

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Reviewed in Best Reads of the year – Rabid Readers Reviews

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