Front Page Titles (by Subject) Sect. III.—: Equality of Creeds could not be established in Ireland, if the Anglican Church retained its Tithes and Estates—What should be done with both. - Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 2
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Sect. III.—: Equality of Creeds could not be established in Ireland, if the Anglican Church retained its Tithes and Estates—What should be done with both. - 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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Equality of Creeds could not be established in Ireland, if the Anglican Church retained its Tithes and Estates—What should be done with both.
The equality of creeds that must be established in Ireland could not be maintained, if, after having given a salary to the Catholic clergy, the state left the Anglican church its tithes and its estates. If these were retained, the Irish people would believe that religious predominance was kept likewise. Even if the produce of the tithes and estates did not amount to an equivalent of the salary paid by the state to the ministers of the Catholic church, they would still see privilege instead of equality, because these two sources of revenue have been for ages attached to the dominant church, and have been regarded by it as privileges.
We must not forget that in Ireland, above all other countries, any injustice imprinted on the soil is with difficulty effaced. Land is everything to the Irish people: it is the only book which they can read; the Irishman knows no other annals; and so long as he sees the Anglican church in possession of large estates obtained in the times of supremacy, he will regard it as still the dominant creed.
But here a question presents itself—namely, how far can the law, without interfering with the principles of property, deprive the church of its estates?
It is a principle admitted by all publicists, that the property of the church, of a corporation, or mortmain, is not of the same nature as private property, but is governed by very different rules. There are substantial differences between these two forms of property which theory cannot dispute. Every successive possessor of ecclesiastical property has only a life interest; he can neither sell nor bequeath; the property has to him no futurity. It is certain also that, the present being everything to him, it is his interest to derive from the land the greatest revenue possible, even at the risk of exhausting and rendering it barren: in a word, he has all the passions of an irresponsible life-tenant, and none of the sentiments which animate the father of a family. Thus necessarily subjected to selfishness and improvidence, mortmain property is subject to another vice; it has the defect of being inalienable, and removed from the market. Badly managed, it produces little, and it is chained to the hands that administer it badly.
Now it may be asked, what analogy in principle can there be between private property and that of a corporation,—between the right of a man who, inheriting from his father, transmits to his son, unless he likes to dispose of it otherwise,—and the right of an individual who is put into possession of an ecclesiastical domain because he has been named to an ecclesiastical dignity, an estate which he cannot alienate, for which his heirs have no hope, and which will cease to be his, I do not say on the day of his death, but at any time when, for some cause or other, he might cease to be a minister of the church. Land, consequently, to the religious minister, is merely a means of support, an element of his salary.
Consequently, if the same powers which created such or such an ecclesiastical dignity, suppressed the office, who would assert that such an abolition was an outrage against property? Property ceases when there is no proprietor, or rather when the precarious tenant has disappeared. The real proprietor still remains, that is to say, the nation, the society, the state, which had assigned those lands as a salary for a public duty, and to which, when the office is suppressed, the land naturally reverts. We can see that the office is abolished, but we cannot see that any individual is plundered. And if the legislator has a right to suppress the office, has he not also the power of changing the mode of payment? To support the assertion that it is an act of spoliation to take lands from the church, it would be necessary to go farther, and assert that any revenue, salary, or estate bestowed on a public establishment, becomes irrevocable property. Now, could such a theory be supported by plausible reasons? Suppose that an establishment, endowed when it was believed salutary, should become pernicious, or that it has ceased to answer the purpose for which it was formed, must society continue to bear the charges imposed to maintain an institution proved to be bad, which charges are only imposed in the hope of great benefits? It is difficult not to see that property, in the hands of ecclesiastical corporations, is a trust for which they are accountable to the country, and which may be resumed by the same power by which it was bestowed.
This principle is less disputable in England and Ireland than in any other country, because there the church and state are one, and consequently the property of the church is also the property of the state.
And how can doubt be maintained in presence of what has been done already? In Ireland, tithes were formerly paid to the Catholic church, which is now deprived of these revenues. How? By authority of the king and parliament. On what grounds? On the principle that it belonged to the government to regulate ecclesiastical property, and make the best use of it. Tithes were, consequently, transferred to the Anglican church. For what object? To render Ireland Protestant, which, nevertheless, has continued Catholic.
Are we to conclude that tithes should be restored to the Catholic church? The consequence does not follow; the state, disposing of its property at its pleasure, may do so, if it deems such a course advantageous; but, thus acting in a country where the notion of sacerdotal supremacy is attached to the payment of tithes, it would place all Ireland under the domination of the Catholic church, and we have seen that nothing could be more ruinous to Ireland itself.
What consequence, then, must we draw? If the state legitimately deprived the Catholic church of its tithes, and transferred them to the Protestant church, in the trust that Ireland would become Protestant, it might, à fortiori, after three centuries of expense, recognising the vanity of its efforts and the chimera of its expectations, resume the tithes, and dispose of them anew.
The right which belongs to the state of disposing of the property of the church does not depend on the use that will be made of the property after it is resumed. The right is absolute, and subject to no other conditions than those of morality or utility. If the power of the state to resume the property of the church be disputed, when the interests of the country and religion require it cannot be disputed, we must also confess that it may distribute this property in the way most useful to society. A recent law of the English parliament has recognised all these principles, by taking one-fourth from the revenues of the Irish clergy. The reduction is trifling, but the principle is everything; for, by adopting it, parliament has declared that the possessions of the church are a national property, the disposal of which belongs to the state. If parliament has a right to take from the church the property called tithes, it may also resume the property called land.
In truth, the greater part of the land possessed by the church of Ireland arose from gifts and bequests. May it not be said that the law cannot, without impiety, defeat the religious purposes of the donor? But see to what this principle will lead. Most of these foundations were made by Catholics for the interests of their church and the establishment of their religion. Still, at the Reformation, the state endowed the Protestant church with all the wealth it took from the Catholic church, and surely it could not perform an act more directly opposed to the will of the donors. Now, one of two consequences must follow; the state had a right to act thus, or it perpetrated injustice. If the latter, the wrong should be repaired, and the confiscated property restored to the Catholics, which I believe would be an evil. If it acted legitimately, it has a right to resume the gift, and dispose of it in another way.
It appears, then, that no considerations of morality or equity would oppose the resumption of ecclesiastical lands and tithes, if their revenues were secured to the actual possessors. It must not be understood that the ower of tithes should be freed from the debt, or the tenant of the church turned into a proprietor; tithes would become a tax due to the state, which would also become proprietor of the lands. It would be bad, in abolishing tithes, to remit the debt; for it is of evil example to a nation when debtors escape their obligations by a display of force. Landed property in Ireland is loaded with a grievous rent—grievous, because it is paid to a detested church. Let us haste to change its nature; let it, like other taxes, be paid to the state. Nothing is more dangerous and depraving to a people than to make money by revolutions. For the same reason, it would be bad to give the church lands to the occupying tenants. These lands belong to the state; if sold for the benefit of the people of Ireland, they would bring an immense profit. Badly cultivated at present, they only bring in one hundred and fifty thousand pounds a year; but it is calculated that they might produce seven hundred and thirty-two thousand pounds. Hence we may judge what a price would be paid in Ireland for these lands. A precious means would be offered to the government of obtaining the desirable object of rendering the people proprietors. There would be six hundred and seventy thousand acres of land to sell, scattered though all the parishes of Ireland; and if a law was made to divide it into small parcels of about ten acres, it would at once create a large number of small landed proprietors. On the day when there will be one hundred and fifty thousand small proprietors in Ireland, property will be more firm, and the security of landlords greater than it ever can be by any political measure.
Thus, the most indispensable of all religious reforms would lead to the most salutary of all social reforms.
WHAT WILL ENGLAND DO?
We have just seen what must be done in Ireland to attack in their first principles the evils which desolate that country, and to restore to its social state, profoundly troubled, the conditions of order, harmony, and tranquillity. Now, is that which is desirable, likely to be accomplished? Will, or can, England effect the immense changes which the interest of Ireland demands? It is not easy to think so. What Ireland requires, is the abolition of its aristocracy, and England is still essentially aristocratic. She loves the institutions which Ireland detests, and is eager to maintain all that is necessary for Ireland to throw down. England, doubtless, is no stranger to the general movement of democracy which agitates the world. The great principle of equality, that fundamental principle of religious and political law, could not but make its way in a country of light, Christianity, and liberty. Besides, it finds a very powerful auxiliary in the ever-increasing development of English industry, which, incessantly bringing the inhabitants of the country into the towns, unpeoples the places where inequality is best established, and increases the population least subject to aristocratic prejudices. Were we only to look at the surface, and the external aspect of things, we might be led to believe that the old constitution of England is menaced with approaching ruin.
Just survey the progress of democracy in that country since 1830. Parliamentary reform, agitated for more than half a century, suddenly arrested in 1793, and suspended for nearly forty years, suddenly resumes its course, and having become irresistible by the energetic demonstrations of the national will, developes itself, and becomes established on a large basis. From that time England, instead of four hundred thousand electors, reckons more than a million; the House of Commons has ceased to be the creature of the House of Lords, and, supported by the people from which it has emanated, has become the first power of the state.
When these great changes were executed, it seemed as if a new era was beginning for England. Tradition formerly presided over its councils; for the first time it took logic as its guide, and regulated its conduct, not by precedents, but by reason. This intellectual revolution was, perhaps, the most difficult that could be effected in a country attached, like England, to its old customs. When once it has entered on the rational course, it will traverse it completely, unless checked by some extraordinary circumstances.
It was absurd, they said, that a petty borough, containing only two or three houses, should send members to parliament, whilst towns like Manchester and Birmingham, containing from one to two hundred thousand inhabitants, should have no representatives. Doubtless. In consequence, the borough was deprived of its privilege, and rights were given to the large towns which they had not before.
It is absurd that the citizens, who pay the taxes, should not all be invited to elect the representatives who have the power of voting those taxes; and, in consequence of this just reasoning, an immense extension was given to the elective franchise. Very well; but is it not absurd, that the municipal towns should be represented by those whom they have not elected, and be governed by officers whom they have not instituted?—Assuredly; in consequence, the municipal corporations of England were reformed and re-organized on a rational plan of free government.
The same logical method assails all abuses, and does not confine itself to the political world; it embraces the entire circle of humanity: the penalty of death has been abolished in a multitude of cases as useless and barbarous: and because slavery is unjust the emancipation of the negro slaves has been purchased from the colonies at a vast expense.
When the democratic advance has proved its strength and morality by such conquests, when it has had the good fortune to mingle its cause with causes so holy, we cannot discover what is to check its course; every circumstance seems to lend it aid; every logical reform leads to another reform, every victory gained is the pledge of a new victory. The singular impulse that has been given to the public mind leads not to a change of institutions, but to their examination. It is inquired if it be reasonable to have justices of peace as magistrates, whose entire qualification is their wealth, and to have men as legislators whose only merit is, that they were born lords. It is inquired if it be reasonable that representatives, chosen by the people, should be trammelled and controlled by lords who are not so chosen. The church itself and its abuses are put on trial; the oldest prejudices are assailed; religious intolerance is attacked in its very citadel; old puritanism is vanquished, and the leader of the Irish Catholics is honoured with a popular oration in the capital of Scotland.1 A farther advance is made; the boldness of the English spirit is carried so far, that the equity of primogeniture and entails begins to be suspected.
Thus, undeniably, democracy is making its way in England; its progress is manifest and constant, and it will perhaps be less difficult to destroy the privileges of the aristocracy, than to reach the length of discussing them.
But though this movement in England is continuous, and though the progress grows more rapid as it becomes more logical, we must also confess that the English democracy is as yet only at the beginning of its career; though it has already made great progress, it has not yet established its empire. Its adversary will not confess itself vanquished for one day’s defeat; and by the side of the forces which urge forward the car of reform, there are considerable powers that resist, or at least endeavour to moderate, its progress.
All the splendid existences of the aristocracy, the influence of large fortunes, the splendour of illustrious names, the multitude of individual conditions that depend on the nobility, and those which have been regulated on the belief in its duration; the popularity of the old families invested with the privileges attached, the prodigious exertions of those, who having recently come into possession of these privileges, labour to guard so precious an advantage, and one obtained with so much difficulty; the ambition of those who aspire to the aristocratic ranks, and who, though they have not yet gained their object, are so near it, that they defend it before it is reached: the number of capitalists who abound in England, whose only thought is to increase their wealth, and who, having need of peace to pursue their designs, are alarmed at every agitation in the state, whether the movement is made backwards or forwards;—all this forms an extraordinary mass of influence, passions, and interests, which openly or secretly tend to retard, if not to impede, the advance of democratic reform.
One of the greatest obstacles to democracy in England is, that philosophic equality is almost unknown. Some superior minds comprehend it, a few perhaps love it, but no one has a passion for it; and among the people there is neither a taste for it, nor an idea of it. The habits of the country are so impregnated with aristocracy, that the very peasant feels its influence, and in his most laborious efforts it is not equality, but inequality, that he pursues. His stimulus to exertion is far less the condition of those whose equal he will be, than that of those whose superior he aspires to become. However, he pursues his object honourably. It is not by humbling others, but by elevating himself, that he aims at becoming great; and if he fails, he submits without a murmur to chances more prosperous than his own, that have gained the privileges to which he aspired. So long as this sentiment will prevail among the lower classes, the aristocracy will preserve a mighty power.
But democracy has a more formidable enemy in England, and one visible to every eye, the church.
We may, doubtless, perceive in England some signs of decline in religious faith. Philosophical scepticism has penetrated into the upper classes, where it is disguised under the mask of Unitarianism. Among the lower classes, mechanical labours, by materialising man, remove him farther from religion, which in truth is nothing more than the bond which unites the soul to that which is the most widely separated from matter, God.
Whether from philosophic tendencies, or from physical degradation, it is certain that there was never perhaps a period when there were so many in England belonging to no definite creed as at present.
But though these symptoms of irreligion and incredulity are more apparent every day, they are as yet rare accidents in England. Of grave importance for the future, they have but slight weight for the present. Taken in the mass, England is still profoundly religious, Christian and Protestant; and the English church, the official form of its worship, is singularly popular.
In truth, the Protestantism of England is not uniform; it is calculated, that the dissenters from the Established Church, Quakers, Methodists, &c., form one-half of the population; and these, though fervent believers, are not necessarily animated by the passions which belong to the church of England. It must be added, that as the dissenters belong principally to the lower classes, all that is not in accordance with the church may be regarded as imbued with democratic tendencies. But it would be a mistake to suppose that the dissenters, though nearly equal in number to the members of the establishment, form an equally powerful party. Ranged under the same banner, the members of the establishment form a close and compact phalanx, whose strength is increased by union; whilst the dissenters, who would be so strong if united, forming as many separate bodies as there are different sects, are weakened down by division.
There is, besides, in the long existence and in the recollections attached to the Anglican church, something very pleasing to the national spirit of the English. They see in it the living tradition of the Reformation, and the continued triumph of the Protestant faith over Catholicism. The church has all the passions of the people on its side; it knows this, and every time that the aristocracy is in danger, the church comes to its aid, denouncing its assailants as the secret enemies of the church. The clamours it raises retain a great number who would be well inclined to destroy aristocratic privileges, but who fear to touch an edifice in which the church is a column, lest the column should fall with the rest of the building. This religious fear is, perhaps, the circumstance which of late days has most tended to suspend the democratic movement. The English reformers having imprudently avowed their intention of reforming the church itself, reform has been stopped short. The rejection of the bill for the abolition of church-rates in England,3 may be regarded as the halting place of the movement that originated in the parliamentary reform of 1832. From a multitude of causes, which it is not within the scope of this work to examine, England is attached to aristocratic and religious institutions, and adverse to a change.
How, then, can we suppose that England will effect or permit the extensive reforms which Ireland requires? Will she not, in her attachment to her old constitution, believe that it cannot be destroyed in Ireland without being weakened in England? Will not every alteration of the tenure of property in one country be perilous to property in the other? If the privileges of birth and fortune be overthrown in Ireland, can they be maintained in England? And the church, that corner-stone of the British constitution, the Established Church of England and Ireland, can it be glorious and powerful in one country, after having been demolished in the other?
Such objections, even supposing them ill grounded, are so completely in accordance with the passions of the people of England, that it may be boldly foretold, that she will not make all the changes that are necessary in Ireland.
Perhaps England will be wrong not to abolish the institutions in Ireland that she wishes to maintain for herself; perhaps the destruction of these institutions in the country hostile to them would be a means of their preservation in the country that is content with them; perhaps it would be a proof of great wisdom on the part of the English legislator, to recognise and declare openly, that different forms of government are necessary for countries whose social condition is so dissimilar, and that other laws are necessary for other habits. This principle once established and understood, many of the difficulties connected with Ireland would vanish.
Ireland would no longer have reason to complain that she is treated differently from England; and the latter, on her part, would not dispute the necessity of a different form of government. At present, it is absurd, that laws fitted to consolidate the aristocracy and church of England should be enacted for Ireland. The latter rejects them, and with reason; and nevertheless England might say, “you ask for the same laws.” It is also an error, when reforms, liberal rather than democratic, having been accomplished in England, are extended to Ireland. Aristocratic England has need of more liberty; Ireland requires more equality. The English government is then wise when it refuses to Ireland what it grants to England; and yet Ireland may say, since you impose upon me your social irregularity, give me also your political liberty.
These inextricable difficulties in a system of uniform government for two countries would disappear as soon as it was established that each people has need of its peculiar legislation, and that Ireland should be treated otherwise than England, not because it is inferior, but because it is different.
But whilst we admit that England would act wisely and justly in pursuing such a course, we may, nevertheless, foresee that it will not be possible for her to act in such a manner. A single obstacle will be sufficient to prevent her,—the prejudices of England, and her passions, which are more powerful than her interests.
Such a condition is, doubtless, sad and pregnant with grave consequences; but, before deducing them, ought we not first to explain more completely the conditions of the problem?
If it be true that England cannot, or rather will not, effect the reforms in Ireland, the necessity of which we have demonstrated, does it follow that she will reform nothing in that country? Assuredly not. Everything, indeed, proves that the aggregate of the proposed reforms would be repugnant to English feelings, but each of them separately would not encounter equal hostility. Should we not, consequently, among the reforms pointed out, distinguish those which England would absolutely, and those which would be partially, admitted? We believe that all the reforms we have mentioned are necessary to the peace and prosperity of Ireland; but if the accomplishing of all is impossible, would not the best, or rather the least defective, plan be that which would permit some of them to be executed?
Besides, how is it possible to pass an absolute judgment on the feelings of a whole nation? There are some features universally diffused through the general aspect of a country, which allow of our attributing certain tastes and distastes to the great mass of the population; but such common features are few. A great people, especially a free people, is not so uniform in all its parts; the difference of classes and ranks, the variety of political interests, religious divisions, give rise to a multitude of opposing sentiments and contradictory passions. It is not always the same sentiment that triumphs; sometimes one notion prevails, sometimes another: the one in possession of power to-day, destroys what the other erected the day before. When, then, we have examined what a people will or can do under given circumstances, we cannot carry the investigation very far, unless we distinguish the different elements of which this people is composed; and, after having made the distinction, we must carefully examine the nature and bearings of each. Consequently, after having examined what England, viewed as a whole, would do for Ireland, we must analyse the English people, and appreciate what it might effect under the successive influence of the different passions and opposite interests by which it is divided. In other words, we must examine what each of the great English parties would do for Ireland.
WHAT EACH OF THE ENGLISH PARTIES COULD ACCOMPLISH FOR IRELAND.
There are three great parties in England—the Tories, the Radicals, and the Whigs: let us examine what Ireland may expect from each.
[1.]O’Connell’s reception in Edinburgh was a triumph rather than an ovation.
[3.][Note text has been omitted from the English translation. Please see the French version of the book for the content of this note.]