Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER III.: Tithes. Resistance of Catholics and Dissenters to the payment of Tithes. - Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 2
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CHAPTER III.: Tithes. Resistance of Catholics and Dissenters to the payment of Tithes. - Gustave de Beaumont, Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 2 
Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, ed. W.C. Taylor (London: Richard Bentley, 1839). Vol. 2.
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We have seen, in the preceding subsection, that one of the sources of revenue in the Anglican church of Ireland is the right to tithes. This right has been recently exchanged for a rent-charge, levied on all properties without distinction, and the mode of payment has undergone important changes; but it still preserves its original character, which is also its radical vice—it is a tax levied on Catholics and Dissenters, for the exclusive advantage of the Anglican church.1
It is easy to conceive all the angry passions that must be produced among the Irish Catholics by this obligation to pay for the support of the clergy of a hostile faith: it is a tribute whose payment implies a sort of homage to the receiver, and to the superiority of the creed that he teaches; a tribute which the Catholics formerly paid to their own church, the church of the country, but which they are now obliged to offer to the ministers of a faith introduced by strangers. How could the Irish Catholics pay with any cheerfulness this debt to such creditors, which is not only an onerous tax in itself, but which wounds their dignity, and indeed can scarcely be paid without some remorse of conscience? This impost not only offends the Catholics; it also wounds those who, though Protestants, follow a different ritual from that of the Established Church, and who are indignant at honouring and supporting a form of worship which is not their own.
Finally, tithes are unpopular amongst the lay members of the Anglican church itself,2 for in their eyes their own clergy are already sufficiently rich; and the payment of this tribute is deemed a heavy burden, which can only be sustained by raising the rent on their tenants, and thus augmenting their misery, and all the perils that such misery produces.
Need we be surprised if, in the midst of these almost unanimous sentiments of hostility to tithes, the Catholics, who are naturally the most hostile of all to this revenue of the Anglican church, refuse to pay it, and choose rather to submit to the legal consequences of their refusal, that is to say, to all the processes and expense of judicial enforcement, rather than, by voluntary payment, perform an act that disgusts and degrades them?
Need we be astonished that repeated demands on one side, and perseverance in refusal on the other, should lead to collisions which first produce lawsuits, then secret hatred, and finally open violence?
When a people suffers from several forms of oppression,—when a great mass of evil is accumulated amongst this people,—when the grievances that this people sustain from the government are infinitely multiplied,—it might seem that if the people revolted, it would be in the name of all its miseries, that it would collect all its grievances as a support for its insurrection, and attack not one cause, but all the causes of its sufferings. It is not thus, however, that nations are accustomed to proceed in their efforts for deliverance; however innumerable may be the evils by which a people is oppressed, we may be assured that every explosion of popular passion terminating in a revolt, will adopt one principal grievance as the summary of all their grievances, as the representative of all the popular sufferings, and as the rallying point of all the popular animosities. Such a banner of sedition is incessantly offered, and will long be offered, to the popular passions in Ireland, by the demand for tithe, and the resistance it provokes.
When once the spirit of resistance has seized on all, behold how it proceeds; on all sides meetings are convened, speeches made, and resolutions adopted; the refusal to pay tithes is decreed by the popular voice, nearly in the same words as the resolution adopted at a meeting in the Queen’s County in 1831. “Resolved, That the tithe system is peculiarly obnoxious to the people of this county, being compelled to support in luxury and idleness a class of men from whom they receive nothing but their marked contempt and hatred.”
Still, in despite of these hostile manifestations, the ministry of the Anglican church prepares to levy the tithes; it is the right of the clergy, the right must be enforced against all the debtors, but they unanimously refuse. The Anglican minister appeals to the law, at the same time that he claims the support of the public force. A process-server is sent to serve summonses on the recusants, and in order that he should not be impeded in the execution of his duty, he is escorted by twenty or thirty policemen in his perilous enterprise. This formality being accomplished, judgment is easily obtained against the defaulters. But they still refuse; they appeal against the sentence on some real or imaginary grounds; they plead, incur expense, gain time: the superior tribunal condemns them over again; still they do not obey, but continue to refuse payment. The Anglican minister, whose rights have been most solemnly sanctioned by law, sees that these rights will perish unless he has recourse to rigorous measures, and he resolves to employ them.
Preparations are made to seize the cattle of the debtor: they cannot be found; they have disappeared the preceding evening, and are concealed. Search is made for them—they are seized—a mob assembles, and beats off the distrainers. The police force is summoned; scarcely is it on the road, when signals are made from the mountains, rallying cries raised, horns blown, to announce to the population of the neighbourhood the arrival of the constabulary force. These sounds are repeated by a thousand echoes, the distant cabins are agitated, the whole county is in commotion, everybody knows his place of rendezvous—it is that of the projected seizure. Peasants crowd to it from all parts; they consult, they encourage, they mutually stimulate each other to resistance: the signal is given, the constables approach, they arrive. Universal hisses, followed by an ominous silence, receive them. Aided by this imposing force, the officers of justice at length seize their prey. But whilst they are making out the schedule of the distrained property, the popular passion is inflamed, the sufferers are pitied; the wretched families, the wife and children, cling to their means of support about to be taken away; it is loudly proclaimed that these rigours, these miseries, and this sorrow, are the work of a minister of the Protestant church, whose opulence is to be increased by the blood of the poor Catholics: cries of horror resound; indignation and anger increase; terrible murmurs are heard, the storm rapidly advances, announcing its approach by the formidable threatenings of popular vengeance. In an instant, the public officers are insulted, menaced, and assailed with blows. Then a Protestant minister, who is also a neighbouring justice of peace, appears, reads the Riot Act, and orders the police to fire on the people. He is obeyed. From this moment the fury of the people knows no bounds. This population, that was deemed humbled and crushed because it was deprived of its arms, finds on the earth it treads terrible weapons to overwhelm its enemies. Energy and despair supply the means of combat, and, after a short struggle, half of the policemen remain on the place slaughtered by stones; the rest effect a retreat, leaving the crowd intoxicated by its unexpected success and sanguinary victory.3
It sometimes happens that the judicial sentence does not encounter such obstacles in its execution; the seizure is effected, but he for whom it is made obtains no profit.
The property of the debtor being placed in the hands of justice, it must be sold for the benefit of the creditor. Now the difficulty is to find purchasers. An auction is held, but there are no bidders; woe to him that would venture to make an offer. Frightful menaces are placarded against those who purchase any goods that have been seized for tithes. These menaces need not be written; they are in the clamour of the multitudes that surround the auctioneer and the public officers; and, written or vociferated, these menaces will not be vain; terrible examples to the contrary are within the memory of all.
An armed force may easily protect the legal functionaries in the seizure; it may resist, conquer, and exterminate the rebels, though subject itself to cruel reprisals; but what it cannot do is to make the mute crowd round the auction break silence, or make a sale to those who refuse to purchase. Often, after many efforts, the distrained cattle and unsold goods are removed to the house of the Protestant minister, who keeps them until he obtains their price.
All sorts of expedients are employed to escape from this difficult conjuncture. Hoping that a sale might more easily be effected in a large city, the seat of government, the distrained chattels are sent to Dublin; but they are stopped on the road, tumultuous mobs assemble here and there, and soon in some struggle between the populace and the drivers, the latter are beaten, and forced to abandon their prey. Without abandoning this plan, other means are sometimes adopted for its execution. Every convoy of distrained goods is escorted by an armed escort from one police station to another. But when the seizure is offered for sale in Dublin, purchasers are not to be found, any more than in the rest of Ireland. It is like some pestiferous matter, whose contact everybody avoids; and whoever bids for it, is stigmatised with infamy; the newspapers publish his name, and popular hatred retains the remembrance. What then is to be done with these goods brought to Dublin, which cannot be sold? A last effort is made, they are transported across the Irish Channel, and, after a passage of a hundred and odd miles, they reach the port of Liverpool: but here their origin is quickly known; when they are offered for sale, no Englishman will sully himself by the purchase; no one will offer a price which will go to pay Irish tithes.4
Let us acknowledge that, when public passion is exalted to this point, and is so unanimous in rejecting a legal right, this right may continue to exist, but its exercise is impossible. Rigour, violence, judicial decrees, distraints, sanguinary collisions between the army and the people,—all these means will be unprofitable and powerless. Much blood will be shed, but it will be utterly wasted; neither tithes nor their price will be paid. And what is still more remarkable is, that the power of the Irish people is not in open rebellion, but in passive resistance. The Irish insurgents of 1831 sometimes committed violent and sanguinary acts; there were riots against the police; Protestant ministers were murdered, and their properties burned; other cruel acts of vengeance were committed; but these isolated outrages, like those of the Whiteboys, produced no political effect. That which rendered the force of the revolt irresistible was its cold and calculating nature, its passive character, the universal agreement of an entire people to render the exercise of an iniquitous right impossible by the simple expedient of refusing to recognise it.
Often, in such extreme cases, the Protestant parson, daunted by these obstacles, abandoned his right. Sometimes he clung to it more closely, but then he encountered invincible difficulties; every step was impeded, everything around him hostile. As perils followed in his train, he soon found none to aid him in his suit; neither attorneys, lawyers, nor witnesses: the magistrates, at first friendly, grew lukewarm, and began to abandon him; all were repugnant to severities which did not attain their object, and were perilous to themselves. The ground was taken from under his feet. Then, inspired by his interests and the sanctity of his unacknowledged right, he turned to the government, his last and highest refuge. “During the last year,” he said, “I have not received a penny of the five hundred pounds due to me for tithes. My wife and children, like myself, have fallen into distress. I have been obliged to sell my carriage and horses.” He then bitterly accused fortune, society, justice, his friends themselves. The ordinary magistrates, if he was to be believed, were insufficient; stipendiary magistrates were wanting; the public force was too weak; the police fought faintly; the army was unwilling to interfere; it was necessary to re-organise the yeomanry, and create a militia specially designed to act against the people. That is to say, it was modestly proposed that, in order to aid ten or twelve hundred Protestant parsons in levying tithes on six millions and a half of Catholics, and six hundred thousand dissenters, the army of Ireland should be increased by forty or fifty thousand men! Such demands could not be satisfied, and they were therefore disregarded. The Anglican clergy of Ireland were then heard to declare that government betrayed the cause of the church, and that the English constitution was in danger. They proclaimed that society itself was attacked at its foundation; for what is a state in which law is disobeyed and property violated? Is not tithe as much the property of the minister as rent of the landlord? Does not the law command the payment of one as well as of the other? The church is accustomed as much as possible to mingle its cause with that of the laity, and to confound its rights with those of the community. “You refuse,” said the clerical body, “the tithes to the minister, which are his right; how then will you complain if your tenant refuses to pay his rent?”
Assuredly this open resistance to law is a sad course of instruction for any people. But who, in the presence of the legal tyranny which we have described, will venture to maintain that a legal right is always just, and that every resistance to the law is criminal resistance? Who will contend that a nation, after having endured an enormous iniquity for centuries, has not a right to cast off the burthen? What is the use of discussing principles when the facts have invincible sway, and when rebellion itself bears the manifest character of morality and justice?
Is it not a sad and solemn spectacle, that of an entire people crushed by the double burthen of a social misery that knows no bounds, and a religious oppression that exceeds belief; driven by the excess of its physical sufferings to a continuity of individual outrages; and propelled by passion into an inevitable circle of general and periodic revolts; incessantly borne down by the yoke of the aristocracy and that of the church,—by the exactions of the one, and the persecutions of the other?
When a stranger sees this emulation between the aristocracy and the church, rivals in tyranny, he asks which of the two excites most hatred in Ireland, and cannot determine whether the aristocracy is the more injurious to the church, or the church the more fatal to the aristocracy.
Sometimes disputes arise between the clergy and the rich, on which it would be difficult to come to a decision. “The church,” say the landlords, “would be less odious to the people, if all ecclesiastical sinecures, which exhaust the resources of the country, were suppressed.” “The rich should be forced to reside on their estates,” say the clergy; “there would then be at least one Protestant family in every parish, and the office of an Anglican minister would be no longer a sinecure.” . . . . “All the misery of the people,” say the aristocracy, “arises from the cupidity of the clergy.” . . . . “No,” replies the church, “it results from the selfishness of the landlords.”5
We may conceive an evil aristocracy whose vices would be corrected by a charitable and generous church. It is, moreover, possible to comprehend the existence of a church defective and full of abuses, but which, by its union with a good aristocracy, might still appear beneficial. But what must be the situation of these two bodies amongst the people, when there is a rivalry between them which shall produce the most misery, and when each of them, hated for itself, is still more hated on account of the other?6
[1.][Note text has been omitted from the English translation. Please see the French version of the book for the content of this note.]
[2.][Note text has been omitted from the English translation. Please see the French version of the book for the content of this note.]
[3.][Note text has been omitted from the English translation. Please see the French version of the book for the content of this note.]
[4.][Note text has been omitted from the English translation. Please see the French version of the book for the content of this note.]
[5.][Note text has been omitted from the English translation. Please see the French version of the book for the content of this note.]
[6.][Note text has been omitted from the English translation. Please see the French version of the book for the content of this note.]