Front Page Titles (by Subject) Section I.: CIVIL CONSEQUENCES. - Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 1
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Section I.: CIVIL CONSEQUENCES. - Gustave de Beaumont, Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 1 
Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, ed. W.C. Taylor (London: Richard Bentley, 1839). Vol. 1.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Extreme misery of the farmers—Accumulation of the population on the soil—Absenteeism—Middlemen—Rack-rents—Want of sympathy between landlord and tenant.
In England and Ireland the lower classes cultivate the soil under the same title—they either take a farm from the rich man, or hire out to him their daily labour.1 Theoretically, their condition is the same in both countries. Whence does it arise that in reality their lot is so dissimilar? Why is the one as happy as the other is miserable? How does it happen that the first is well lodged, well clothed, well fed, surrounded by a family prosperous like himself, living in comfort and contentment, scarcely imagining a lot more fortunate than his own; whilst the other, covered with rags, lives on potatoes when he is not forced to fast, has no other shelter than the filthy hovel which he shares with his pig, and sees during the winter his poor children perishing from cold, without being able to clothe them, and hears during the whole year their cries of hunger which he cannot appease?
It is because that in England the large proprietor is the patron of the soil and its inhabitants; he does not limit himself to receiving his rents and claiming his rights; he also fulfils his duties, and believes that he is bound to return a portion of what he receives. And in the first place, engaging, in some sort, his fortune in the land that he possesses, he invests in it considerable capital. See what a residence he prepares for his tenant. It is composed of several buildings; nothing is wanting to render the life of the resident pleasant and comfortable: it is the centre of an extensive culture; round it extend vast domains that depend on it; the best agricultural implements are there waiting for the hand that is to employ them. After he has formed this great farm, he keeps an eye on its fortune. Watching the efforts of his tenants, he rejoices in his success, and compassionates his reverses; and by a sympathy as enlightened as it is generous, he soothes the misfortunes which, if they remained unredressed, would prove injurious to himself. He is not always liberal, but he is rarely destitute of intelligence. Thus the relations between landlord and tenant have for their primary base the wisdom or the benevolence of the one, whence naturally arise the deference and respect of the other.
Matters are not managed in this way in Ireland. The proprietor, as we have said, is often an absentee; it often happens that he is unacquainted with his own estates; he knows vaguely that he possesses some hundred, or hundred and fifty thousand acres in the county of Cork or Donegal; that it is bounded on one side by the sea, and on the other by the loftiest mountain perceptible in the horizon. Desirous of deriving from these possessions the greatest profit possible, he is also resolved not to spend a single farthing in improving their value. He or his ancestors obtained this vast tract by confiscation; who knows but some new revolution may take away what the preceding revolution has thrown into his family? This reasoning of the absent proprietor is very nearly repeated by the resident landlord; for though he touches the soil, he rarely takes root in it, and Ireland is not the country to which he believes that his cares and sacrifices are due.—Thus a large proprietor in Ireland generally aims at managing his estate without any expenditure of capital; that is to say, he expects to reap without having sowed. But how is he to obtain the smallest profit without some preliminary expense?—Here is the way in which he solves the problem. He gives up the rental of his domain to an agent, either for a round sum at once, or an annual payment, of which the amount is secured by penalty of forfeiture. This undertaker, a rich capitalist, residing either in London or Dublin, does not take Irish land to turn farmer, but he takes it on lease as a matter of speculation; and when the bargain is concluded, he aspires only to transmitting the culture of the land to another, on condition of his being insured a beneficial interest. It is then usual to divide the estate into a certain number of lots of a hundred, five hundred, or a thousand acres, which he farms out to secondary agents, called Middlemen. Sometimes the resident proprietor makes this division of his estate himself, which he lets out to the secondary agents.
But how will these agents of the first or second degree derive profit from the land they take on lease? Will each establish a large farm?—If he did so, he would have to risk a large capital. Now, how could an agent have more confidence in the land than the lord of the soil himself?—What then does he do?—He establishes no farms on the land he has taken, small or great; he in general limits himself to manuring the surface. When this work is done, he subdivides his lot, (on what is called in Ireland the cornacre system,) and lets it out at the highest rent he can get, in parcels of five, ten, and twenty, acres to the poor peasants of the country, the only persons who take ground with the intention of cultivating it;2 that is to say, on the most moderate advance of capital he expects to realise the highest profit.
But how will all these petty agriculturists cultivate the land they have taken? Where will they establish themselves? Will the proprietor or agent take care to erect a dwelling on each of the small allotments?—Assuredly not: this building would require capital, which no one is inclined to advance. The land is then given to them entirely naked;—but where are they to lodge? They build for themselves a shapeless mass of mud, wood, and straw, which they call their cabin! At least, do they find any agricultural implements at their disposal? Not one; they are left to procure them the best way they can.
Thus, in England, the landed proprietor furnishes his tenant with a house and agricultural implements. In Ireland, the poor man who takes a “bit of ground,” must build his own dwelling, and find all his own farming implements.
It may be asked, when the rich do not supply capital, how is the poor peasant to procure it? It must be answered, that for the most part he does not obtain it, and that he only applies brute force to an enterprise for the success of which capital would be necessary. He cultivates badly, because the means of cultivation are wanting. Now, how can he, cultivating badly, pay the exorbitant rents demanded by the proprietor, the middleman, and the subordinate tenants? For it is the poor tiller of the ground who must bear the weight of all the successive engagements of which the land has been the object. The chief proprietor, who leases his land to an undertaker, receives from him a sum of money, which he gets back again with profit from the inferior middlemen; and these again, subletting to small farmers, not only receive what they have paid the undertaker, but realise a profit-rent; so that the actual tillers of the soil have to pay a rent in the first place, equivalent to the sum which the undertaker pays the proprietor, and to which must be added the profits of the undertaker, and the beneficial interest of all the intermediate rates. It is in vain that the poor agriculturists of Ireland labour to satisfy all these interests, and at the same time to derive from the land a sufficiency for the sustenance of themselves and families. However fruitful the land of Ireland may be, it cannot give all that is required of it; incessantly, in spite of all his efforts and his labours, the poor Irish peasant finds it impossible to pay his rents. What then happens? The middleman or the proprietor ejects him from his land, seizes his few moveables, and sells them by auction. And what becomes of the peasant, whose entire crime is having attempted an impossibility? As no other branch of industry is open to him but the land, he goes to seek a small farm elsewhere, and until he finds it, he, his wife, and children, beg or starve.
Here is doubtless a great misery, which appears particularly enormous when viewed in contrast with the comfort and prosperity of English farmers. But it would be a great mistake to attribute the entire to undertakers, agents, and middlemen. These middlemen are an effect, and not a cause. Assuredly they are an evil,3 and nothing can be imagined more disastrous than these successive transactions, of which the first effect is to give up the soil to speculators who feel no interest in the property, and take the culture of a farm as a temporary employment; and of which the no less immediate consequence is, to place between the proprietors and tillers of the soil three or four traffickers, who only come upon the land for hire. But who is the real author of this evil? Is it not he who, in his indifference for the country and those who cover it, has delivered the soil and its inhabitants into alien and avaricious hands?
Whether the Irish agriculturists have to deal with the owner of the soil, or his agent, there is no difference in their condition. They find no sympathy in one or the other; the same spirit of cupidity animates both, the same selfishness hardens and blinds them; both have only one object—to get the highest rent out of the land they can. The moral and physical condition of the tenant is equally indifferent to both. They feel and display the same insensibility in presence of his prosperous efforts or barren toils, his successes or his reverses; the man occupies their ground, but still is to them as a stranger. Provided he pays, it is all they require. Thus, when they see him weak and broken down, they leave him in his distress, and turn away their eyes; they only come to ask him for the rent that has fallen due; or if, by any accident, relations are established between the landlord and the tenant—if, by any chance, the latter works for the former, or sells him any article, it is certain that the landlord will take a gross and unfair advantage of the poor agriculturist’s simplicity, and that the latter will always be the dupe in the bargain.4
And of what importance are these miseries of the wretched peasant to the middleman, who only sees them in his hasty transit, and who will fly the country of the miserable beings he has tortured so soon as he has made his fortune. “What do you want with me?” the proprietor exclaims at the sight of these frightful evils; “I have ceded my rights to my agents, who must exercise them as they please.” But most frequently the proprietor does not pronounce these words of regret, for he does not see the misery of which he is the author. Secluded in his mansion in London, he does not hear the cries of despair which issue from the Irish cabin; under the pure and serene sky of Italy, he knows not that a storm in Ireland has destroyed the poor man’s harvest; he knows not at Naples that, for want of a genial sun, the fruits of the earth have failed in cold Hibernia: if, by any unexpected event, the poor peasants that cover his estate have fallen into distress, he is ignorant whether any unexpected blow of fortune has struck down the wretches, such as a long sickness of the head of the family, or the loss of agricultural cattle; he knows none of these things, and it would be inconvenient for him to know them. What he knows well is, that £20,000 are annually due to him from his Irish estates; that his mode of life is regulated by the amount; that this sum must be paid at every term; and that if the payment were delayed for a single day, it would trouble the order of his habits and the arrangement of his pleasures.
Besides, whether he manages his affairs personally or by agents, whether he is absentee or resident, you may be well assured that the proprietor who has no “bowels of compassion” for the country, and for whom his country has no voice; who does not regard as fellow-citizens the peasants by whom his land is cultivated, will never be beneficent to the soil or its inhabitants. This is a starting-point of which sight is constantly lost, but which must be kept steadily in view, unless we wish to go astray.
Nothing is more common than to attribute the misery of the Irish peasant to defects in the agricultural systems practised in Ireland. If we believe some, the leases are too long, which destroys the proprietor’s interest and care of his property; according to another, leases are too short; their brief duration renders the farmer’s condition precarious; the evil, says a third, arises from there being no leases, which places the tenant completely at the mercy of his landlord.
There is no disputing the pernicious or beneficent effect that different systems of agriculture may exercise on the fortune of the proprietor and the condition of the tenant; but what is not less certain is, that, under the best agricultural management, the farmer’s lot may be miserable, whilst, in spite of the most defective method, his condition may be enviable and prosperous. I have seen counties in England and Scotland where leases are long, and others where they are short; I have even seen some where the land is held by tenants at will; but I have not remarked that these diversities in the form of engagement, which doubtless have some influence on agricultural produce, modify to any extent the condition of the farmer, which I have found everywhere uniformly prosperous.
Whatever may be the terms of the law between landlord and tenant,—whatever the text of the contract by which they are united,—whatever attention may be bestowed in assuring to the poor agriculturist rights, sureties, and guarantees,—the letter of the engagement will always be barren, unless the spirit give it life. Now the spirit, the soul of the obligations by which a landlord is bound to his tenants, is good-will—the only shield of the feeble against the strong, of the poor against the rich. The abstract right will be more cruel than the sympathy. No law, however liberal, can supply the place of absent charity; and there is no law so cruel as not to be alleviated by charity; this is the reason why the poor Irish peasant, who finds in his landlord neither kindness nor pity, is so miserable.
Competition for land—Whiteboyism—Social evils—Inutility of coercive measures—Terror in the country—Disappearance of landlords and capitals.
We have just seen how, by the effect of the selfishness or carelessness of the rich, the land in Ireland is covered with a number of petty cultivators, between whom it is divided into portions of five, ten, or twenty acres. If it be asked, how it was possible to find such a number of agriculturists, I would reply, that it is easy to lead all the inhabitants of a country to tillage where there absolutely exists no other form of industry. It was doubtless at first a great advantage to the proprietor to find such a multitude of petty farmers at his disposal; for without them he could not obtain any profit from his estates, unless he made an outlay of capital which he was unwilling to risk.
However, a time came when all these lands were occupied; and this was not long in coming, for all the Catholic population, excluded from public employments, liberal professions,1 prohibited from becoming proprietors, incapable through poverty of engaging in commerce or manufacture, even if it had not been prevented by the political condition of the country, having absolutely no career open but that of farming,—this population, I say, precipitated itself on the offered land, and overwhelmed it as the overflow of a torrent soon covers a vast plain with its waters.
But in a country where the land is the sole means of existence, what is the fate of those to whom land is wanting? What becomes of an ejected tenant, if he can find a farm nowhere else? What is to become of his children? Here is a little plot on which a poor peasant procured a moderate subsistence; he has five children, (an inconsiderable number in an Irish family;) his only thought and his only ambition is to find a farm for each; but he cannot succeed, because all the farms are occupied. What then is to become of his children? Observe that the question is rigorously put, for tillage, as I said before, is the only resource, the only available employment, to an Irishman; and yet the land fails him; nevertheless, employment is most wanting to the poor in a country where the rich possess no charity. The peasant must possess a plot of ground, or starve.
This is the secret of that extraordinary rivalry of which land is the object in Ireland. The land in the country resembles a fortress eternally besieged and defended with indefatigable ardour; there is no safety unless within its precincts; he who makes good his entrance, leads a life of labour, privation, and peril, but still he lives; he holds fast to the rampart—he clings to it; and in order to remove him, it is necessary to tear him limb from limb. The condition of the unfortunate being who has failed in attaining this object is lamentable; for, unless he yields himself to starvation, he must either beg or rob.
What is the consequence? The farmer who is anxious to ensure the existence of his family, has no resource but to subdivide his little farm into as many parts as he has chileren; each of them, then, possesses four or five acres, instead of the twenty which the father held, and several mud cabins are built on the farm instead of one. The son has children himself; he must do for them just what his father did; and thus, from generation to generation, this fractional division at length reaches a half or even a quarter of an acre for each family, and the occupant of the soil finds it physically impossible to live on so restricted a portion. This is the reason why, at the present day, three or four hundred cottiers are found crowded and living miserably on some domain which formerly contained a very small number.2 In spite of this accumulation, it often happens that a time comes when space is physically wanting, and a certain quantity of those born on the ground must quit it.
They remove from the land, and nevertheless the land alone can support them. What follows? That the number of farmers being greater than the number of farms, the competition immeasurably raises the rents. The Irish peasant must have an acre or half an acre of ground, or die; he must have it at any price, or on any conditions, however severe they may be. The reasonable rent of this acre would be four pounds; I offer the landlord double; another offers ten pounds; I raise my bidding to twenty; the land is adjudged to me; at the rent-day I will not be able to pay;—what matter?—I shall have lived, or tried to live, for a whole year.
Thus he who already pays an exorbitant rent, is obliged by competition, in order to keep his farm, to pay a still higher sum.3 To be sure, he is free to refuse any increase of rent; but a two-edged sword is suspended above his head; if he resists the demand of the landlord, he is ejected from his farm; if he submits to the severe conditions, it is nearly certain that he will be unable to fulfil his rash engagements, and that he will soon be dismissed by the landlord, perhaps at the instigation of some other competitor. After all, the worse condition is to quit the ground in a country where ground is the only means of livelihood; he remains then on his farm—consents to everything; he knows that scarcely one in a thousand succeeds in such an enterprise, and he resigns himself to the chances of this cruel lottery.
The competition of the farmers perhaps raises rents higher than the avidity of the landlord or the middleman. A worse condition cannot be imagined than that of all these poor labourers vegetating on the ground, clinging to it like vermin, and adding to their misery by their supernatural efforts to overcome it. This misery is augmented in the exact proportion of the increase of population,4 until there are, in our day, two million six hundred thousand paupers; that is to say, two million six hundred thousand persons destitute of land, or having too small a portion of land for their support.5
This lamentable condition of the farmer is not profitable to the landlord; he or his agent, deceived at first by the promises of the competitors, soon discovers the falsehood; he receives but little from the land thus highly rented, and he is disgusted by rigorous proceedings, in which his profits are swallowed by the legal expenses; he discovers that by ruining his tenants he has not enriched himself. Sometimes he says, “All the mischief has risen from this accumulation of cottiers, who devour the soil instead of fertilising it. The evil would cease if a few large farms were substituted for this multitude of small holdings; this is the agricultural system in England and Scotland; the time is favourable for imitating it in Ireland; the age of revolutions is gone, their remembrance is effaced; the soil, once so precarious, is now secure; capital may with safety be invested in land.”6
His plan is then fixed; he is about to substitute some large farms for a multitude of small holdings; but how is this end to be attained? By ejecting the cottiers that cover his land, and proceeding to a new distribution of property; that is to say, after having made use of the cottier tenants during the period when from want of capital he had need of them, he casts them off at the moment when the return of capital affords him the means of establishing a more lucrative means of cultivation. But what is to become of the two or three hundred peasants who in one day receive an order to quit their cabins? The blow is fatal. For here it is necessary to observe, that this is no common removal; usually the outgoing tenant succeeds some one else—here hundreds of peasants depart, two or three only remain, no one comes in; so that three hundred desperate wretches are created by a single blow, whose removal does not open any opportunity for the relief of other unfortunates.7
We can now see what contrary interests and what different passions control the possession of land in Ireland. The order to quit being given to the poor tenant, he resists it; this order is to him a sentence of death; he sees rising before him the hideous spectre of hunger, which is ready to seize upon him, his wife, and his children; he then contemplates the entire extent of his misfortunes, passes from grief to despondency, and from despondency to utter despair. Still one ray of hope comes to illumine his forehead: “If I went to the master,” says he, “and showed him the misery which overwhelms us—if he saw my wife pining with hunger, my children pale and famishing, surely he would feel for us, and would leave us our little cabin at least for a few days longer!” The wretch is mistaken—he throws himself at the feet of his master, he supplicates, he implores in vain; the rich in Ireland have no compassion for the poor. In that country, the poor man may preserve his pride, for he humbles himself unprofitably before the rich, who rejoice in his abasement without alleviating his misery. The poor peasant, harshly repulsed, regains his cabin in silence, brings back there an additional sorrow, and, struck with a misfortune too great to be combated and too great to be endured, crosses his arms and remains immovable. The proprietor then claims the assistance of the law, which at great cost pronounces sentence, by which the poor agriculturist is condemned to quit his land; the judgment triples the sum which the wretch before had to pay. He had been ejected for not being able to pay his rent; how is he now to raise three times that sum? He soon sees two constables appear, bearing a sentence in proper form, according to the tenor of which he must immediately leave the place; and at once these agents of public power begin by seizing every article which they can find in the cabin. It is very necessary that the lawyers, without whose aid justice cannot be had, should be paid for their trouble. All this is done amidst the most heart-rending cries, which burst forth from the cabin; imprecations are heard, which if they reached the ear of the rich man would mingle remorse with his pleasures: but, finally, justice takes its course—everything is seized and sealed in the farmer’s dwelling; the bailiffs are its masters, the poor family is gone.8 The constables disappear with their plunder. The next morning the farmer and his family are again in possession of the poor cabin; force alone removed them, they reappear when that force is withdrawn. They have been driven from their land, but since this land is their only means of subsistence, they must of sheer necessity return. The proprietor then takes the only means that can rid him of these obstinate wretches—he pulls down the cabin, and thus gets rid of its inhabitants.
These rigours accumulate, these cruelties are multiplied; the poor occupants of the soil are pursued from cottage to cottage, thrown with their families out on the public road, everywhere exposed to the same legal violence, to the same extremity of misfortune.9
Some day or other a voice is raised amongst these poor formers, which exclaims—
“The earth alone supplies us with food, let us cling to it closely, and not quit it. The landlord or agent bids us depart—let us stay. The courts of justice order it—still let us stay; an armed force is sent to compel us—let us resist it; let us oppose all our forces to an unjust force, and in order that the injustice should not reach us, let us enact the most terrible penalties against those by whom it is committed.
“Be it enacted,—
“That whoever shall attempt, directly or indirectly, to deprive us of our farms, shall be punished with death.
“That the landlord, middleman, or agent, who shall eject a tenant from his estate, shall be punished with death.
“That the landlord who demands a higher rent than that which we have fixed, shall be punished with death.
“That he who bids a higher rent for a farm, takes the place of an ejected tenant, purchases by auction or otherwise goods that have been distrained, shall be punished with death.
“Let us strike the culpable, not only in their persons, but in their dearest interests and affections; let not only their cattle be houghed, their houses burned, their land turned up, their harvests destroyed, but let their friends and relations be devoted to death, their wives and daughters to dishonour.10
“And as, in order to be strong, it is necessary that we should have arms, let us haste to seize the arms of which we have been deprived. Hitherto isolation has been our weakness; let us associate—let us solemnly engage to enforce our laws, and, in order that the engagement should be sacred and inviolable, let us give it the sanction of an oath—let us cover it with the veil of inviolable secrecy11 —let us extend our confederation over the entire country—let whoever refuses to join us be regarded as an enemy, and treated as such; and, in order that our laws should not be idle commands, let us solemnly promise, that whichever of us shall be appointed to execute the punishment for a breach of our code, shall instantly obey and execute in all its rigour the prescribed sentence.”
These are, doubtless, dreadful laws,—they are those of the Whiteboys,12 an atrocious savage code, worthy of a semi-barbarous population, which, abandoned to itself, has no light to guide its efforts, finds no sympathy to assuage its passions, and is reduced to look to its rude instincts for the means of safety and protection.
Terror then spreads through the country; dangerous plots are formed in darkness; strange figures appear here and there; houses are attacked during the night; every one is obliged to fortify his dwelling;13 but all resistance is vain—sometimes it is necessary to give up arms, sometimes to take oaths. These are banditti of a singular kind; to obtain arms or vengeance, they commit all sorts of outrages, while they abstain from the gold and silver under their hands. A murder is committed; it is soon discovered that the victim is a proprietor whose tenant has been ejected the evening before.14 The perpetrators have been seen, but no one in the country knows them, and everything proves that they have been brought from a distance to execute vengeance for another. A second similar crime is committed; it is the murder of a middleman who has seized his tenant’s goods. The whole proprietary class is alarmed, an appeal is made to the laws, it issues its mandates, but no one points out the traces of the guilty; justice discovers them after an active search; they resist, she seizes them, but an insurrection rescues them from her hands; at length she seizes them again; the guilty are under lock and key. It is then necessary to search for witnesses; all who are summoned declare that they have seen nothing: one presents himself and tells the truth. Two days afterwards it is discovered that this witness has been assassinated. What is to be done? It is very necessary that justice should have its course. The witnesses do not appear. Well, they must be arrested and brought before justice by force; but there, they refuse to give evidence. It is necessary to purchase their evidence. Their existence is menaced; it is necessary to protect them. How is this to be done? No one will give them an asylum. Well, they must be committed to gaol. But what reward will be sufficient to induce a witness to make a declaration which endangers his life, and the first effect of which is to deprive him of liberty? However high his price, he must be paid in full. But who will admit the sincerity of a witness under the double influence of the money which he receives, and the death which he dreads? Necessity, however, decides that he must be believed. But will not this witness, dismissed after the trial, be assassinated? No, he will leave the prison and leave Ireland at the same time. Thus, the condition of every witness for the prosecution in criminal affairs must be, to remain in prison until the trial, and afterwards go into exile. But what honest man will be a witness? Honest witnesses will be dispensed with—stern necessity demands it. But what honest man will act as judge? . . . . . Thus have we gone from consequence to consequence, until we have reached the sad alternative, that justice must either be powerless or immoral—must either acquit the accused for want of witnesses, or condemn by the aid of purchased witnesses. Finally, the verdict is given, the guilty man is sentenced and put to death. The informer and the witness go into exile. Next day it is found that the brother of the informer, the mother or sister of the witness, have been assassinated.15
When you have reached this point, you may be well assured that all rigorous means to restore peace and order will be useless. In vain will you employ a Draconian code to repress atrocious outrages; in vain will you enact cruel laws to arrest the course of revolting excesses; in vain will you affix the penalty of death to minor crimes;16 in vain, actuated by the terrors of weakness, will you suspend the ordinary course of law, and proclaim entire counties under the Insurrection Act;17 in vain will you violate the principle of individual liberty,18 create martial law and special commissions,19 and, to produce a salutary impression of terror, multiply to excess capital executions.
All these rigours will be vain; instead of healing the wound, they will irritate it, and render it more painful and dangerous. The peasants who, in 1760, revolted against a bad social system, under the name of Whiteboys, renewed the insurrection some years after under the name of Oakboys; in 1772, under that of Steelboys;20 in 1788 they were called Rightboys; at a later period they took the name of Rockites andri Clasts, subjects of Captain Rock and Lady Clare;21 in 1806 they called themselves the Thrashers; in 1811, 1815, 1820, 1821, 1823, and 1829, they resumed the name of Whiteboys; in 1831 they were Terry-Alts; in 1832, 1833, and 1837, Whitefeet and Blackfeet;22 and under these various denominations you may see them actuated by the sense of the same miseries, committing the same acts of violence, followed by the same cruel means of repression, which have been always powerless.
All your vigorous measures to restore peace and order will be abortive, because the order you design to make supreme is actual discord; because the peace you wish to establish is violence and oppression. This violence, this oppression, this disorder, have produced a state of war; and this social war is not between the honest man and the malefactor, between the labourer and the idler, between the industrious man and the robber,—it is a war between the rich and the poor, between the master and the slave, between the proprietor and the cultivator; and this war has arisen because the selfishness of the rich has been carried to an excess which necessarily drove the poor to revolt.23
Now say what are the means to escape from this vicious circle? Here is an aristocracy that, either by its faults or its vices, has allowed such a mass of evil to accumulate in the country entrusted to its care, that the wretches on whom the burden presses, shake it off from sheer inability to sustain it longer. There is no longer a social state: it is war—it is anarchy.
What is the consequence? Half of the resident gentry depart; many, not driven away by terror, remove from the aspect of such great evils, which it is not in their power to alleviate; the attempt at a remedy is no longer a feasible enterprise, and the sight of so much misery is especially dreadful to the compassionate: hence it follows, that those whose presence would be a blessing to the country, have not the courage to remain there.
Still there are some whom social war and its horrors do not drive from the land; but whilst they remain, they feel their hatred for a population already detested continually increase; and their severity continually adds to the distress of the people, and its thirst for vengeance.
Capital is wanting; the terror which reigns in the country, drives it farther away. Industry alone could raise from indigence the multitude of cottiers that contend for the land; and capital, without which no industry is possible, has fled from poor Ireland for ever.
Thus, the sources of Irish misery mutually increase, and reciprocally produce each other; all proceed from one common cause, and ascend in uninterrupted chains to the first link—a bad aristocracy.
[1.]The class of farmers called yeomen in England, is almost unknown in Ireland.
[2.]Larger farms are sometimes held in joint-tenancy
[3.]There are sometimes six or seven removes between the landlord and the occupying tenant.
[4.]Wakefield’s Ireland, i. 237. A decided change for the better is in progress during the last three years.
[2.]Lewis’s Irish Disturbances, 79 and 320.
[3.]Farms are too often let to the highest bidder, without any previous investigation of his character or solvency.
[4.]The supply of labour in Ireland is so limited, that the peasants are for the most part without employment during six months of the year.
[5.]Third Report of Irish Poor Commission, passim.
[6.]This evil is fearfully on the increase: Lord Courtown has just commenced a clearance which will consign hundreds to starvation.
[7.]Inquiry of 1832 into the State of Ireland, 471.
[8.]Lewis’s Irish Disturbances, 225.
[15.]See Historical Introduction for an account of the Whiteboys.
[16.]See Whiteboy Act of 1775.
[17.]Lewis’s Irish Disturbances, 43.
[18.]By the Insurrection Act, persons found out of their houses between sunset and sunrise are liable to be arrested.
[19.]See Coercion Bill of 1833.
[20.]Those were chiefly in Ulster.
[21.]An imaginary queen.
[22.]There are many other names, such as Carders, Shanavests, Caravats, Blackhens, Magpies, &c.
[23.]Religion is but slightly mingled with agrarian revolts.