Front Page Titles (by Subject) FOURTH PART. - Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 2
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FOURTH PART. - 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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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.
The Tory Party.
The English Tories are the party that displays the most anxious desire and firm will to preserve the institutions of the country intact: in their love for what exists, they defend all privileges, protect all abuses, and stigmatise the partisans of every reform as enemies of the constitution. They are the most constant and devoted friends of the church; in a word, they offer the highest expression of the aristocratic and religious passions which England contains.
It is not enough to say, that it would be impossible for this party to make the changes in Ireland which the country requires. If England, with its various interests and opposite passions, would be generally adverse to such reforms, how can they be expected from the party in which all the passions most hostile to innovation are concentrated?
In truth, a new party has lately been formed under the banners of the old Tory party, less absolute than that is in its principles, and which, whilst it displays the same attachment to the ancient institutions of England, does not profess an equal respect for the abuses with which they are mingled. This new party, commonly called Conservative, and of which Sir R. Peel is the leader, is generally composed of the more moderate and enlightened Tories, who comprehend that the best means of rescuing the assailed aristocracy, would be to correct its most salient vices as fast as they are revealed by time, and whenever their reform is imperiously demanded by public opinion. This party is, perhaps, the most faithful image of England, considered by itself; everything leads to the belief, that it would have the majority; indeed it would already possess it in parliament, only that Scotland and Ireland return one hundred and fifty representatives, most of whom are Radicals or Whigs.
But it is easy to see that this second party would not be less incapable than the first of giving Ireland the satisfaction which she requires.
It is not merely abuses that must be corrected in Ireland; it is institutions that must be destroyed. Now, how could these institutions be destroyed by a party, whose very name indicates that its mission is conservative?
In order to effect great reforms in Ireland, it is absolutely necessary to engage in a struggle with the aristocratic and religious passions of England. This the conservative party would hardly do, for such passions are its main support: its moderation consists in not exciting them, and in striving to assuage them; but it could not combat them. This party might, doubtless, make useful innovations in the details of public administration, but it would not execute the reforms suited to changing the social and political economy of the country.
Still there are many who believe that the conservative party would be the best to reform the vicious institutions of Ireland; they found their opinion on the fact, that the greatest changes which have been made in Irish institutions were effected by moderate Tories, and they quote as an example the concession of Catholic emancipation, in 1829, by the Wellington administration. But we must not confound what has been done by a party, with what may be expected from its principles.
Catholic emancipation was not in its nature a Tory measure: Lord Wellington undertook it, not because it was conformable to his principles, but although it was adverse to them. He has himself declared that, in accomplishing it, he did not yield to feelings of justice, but to the necessity of tranquillising Ireland, which menaced England with insurrection. He did not freely execute reform; he made a necessary concession. Now we are examining whether, if the conservative party undertook the government of Ireland, it would be compelled to make concessions—we are examining whether it would be in the nature of its principles to effect reforms.
Even if the Conservative party had the power and will to execute certain reforms in Ireland, there is one absolutely impossible for it to undertake, and which would stop it at once—the reform of the church. As religious questions are those which excite the most lively passions in England, the most temperate of the Conservatives could not apply their principles of moderation in matters that concern the church. Here the abuse is quite as sacred as the principle. But we have already seen that no reform in Ireland could be salutary, which did not, in the first place, subvert the Anglican supremacy. Thus the very first reform required in Ireland—that without which every other would be vain and fruitless—is precisely that which the Conservative party would be utterly unable to accomplish.
The Radical Party.
If the Tory party is by its nature unfit for the great reforms that Ireland requires, is not the party most capable of these reforms that whose doctrines are most opposed to those of the Tories, and which represents in the English nation the opinions most favourable to movement and progress, as the Conservative party expresses the passions most friendly to immobility?
We may certainly grant that if the English Radical party were in power, it would effect great reforms in Ireland. Still it would not be a task exempt from difficulty to determine what acts should be expected from its principles. We clearly perceive its general tendency towards democracy, but it would be difficult to say how far it goes on this road. Its march is uncertain, its theories vague, its plans are not yet formed. Either because it does not itself know the object to which it advances, or that it fears to frighten England by showing it, it is certain that this object is not clearly perceived. In its largest and most explicit professions of faith, the Radical party claims annual parliaments, universal suffrage, and vote by ballot; important reforms, without doubt, but which are means, rather than ends. We may, it is true, foresee that if the Radicals were masters of parliament and power, they would abolish the political and civil privileges of the aristocracy, and thus remove one of the greatest obstacles to the abolition of the same privileges in Ireland. But who can tell when the Radical party will have the power of executing such reforms? The party is at present small; it has little influence with the English nation, for it is too far in advance of the people; it counts but few members in parliament, and power is so far from it, that we need not inquire how power would be used by the party. Even had the party sufficient strength to deprive the English and Irish aristocracy of their civil and political privileges, could it at the same time abolish their religious privileges,—that is to say, the reform which in Ireland must precede all others? We may doubt it. And the obstacle by which it would be checked would be found within itself.
These religious passions, which we have already seen as powerful in England, are, perhaps, nowhere more active than with the Radical party, where they are more violent and less enlightened than in any other. In truth, the Radical party being principally composed of dissenters from the established church, the fanaticism of religious party, which pushes it towards democracy, would, in this respect, appear favourable to Ireland; but at present its passions are Protestant, rather than democratic, and the Irish are Catholics. The English dissenters, most of whom are Radicals, are assuredly enemies of the supremacy of the church; still they would hesitate to overthrow it in Ireland, through fear of giving a triumph to the Catholics. These passions of the Radical party against Ireland grow weaker every day, and are combated by the leaders of the party with all their might; still they occasionally burst forth. To quote only one example; when, after various attempts, a plan was formed by the English government for paying the Catholic clergy of Ireland, a fierce opposition was kindled by the dissenters, who branded as an act of impiety the payment of Popish priests by a Protestant state. Thus the Radicals, like the Tory party, might be stopped short at its first step in Irish reform by a cause arising from religion; with this difference, that the Radicals, in forbearing to attack the supremacy of a church so essentially aristocratic as that of Ireland, would do violence to their political principles, whilst the Tories, by preserving it, would act consistently with their passions, their doctrines, and their interests.
Let us add, that the prejudices of the Englishman against the Irishman, the contempt which the first so commonly feels for the second, are nowhere so strong as amongst the lower classes, where the Radicals naturally look for support.
The preceding observations apply with still greater force to an extreme Radical party which quite recently has manifested itself in England, and which, collecting large assemblages, is distinguished by a singular violence of language, and a great exaggeration of theories. In direct opposition to the moderate Radicals, who, not to alarm England, doubtless announce less than they wish to effect, this new party seems anxious to terrify the Conservative interests as much as possible: not that its doctrines give a clear idea of its projects; it does not say precisely what it will do, but takes care to spread abroad that it will accomplish great and terrible things; it is not satisfied with reform, it demands revolution; its motto is, the employment of physical force; it collects multitudes at night by torch-light, and, to remove all doubt respecting its designs, it invokes the memory and proceedings of Danton. It is doubtful if the Radical party, composed principally of the most fanatic dissenters of England, would do more for Ireland than the moderate Radicals: but what is certain is, that it would have far less power, for it has gone so far in advance of the people that it has left the nation behind altogether.
The Whig Party.
We have just seen why, from different reasons, the two parties, which represent the most contrary ideas and opposite passions in England, could not effect any important reform in Ireland; one, because it blindly supports the constitution; the other, because it is supposed to be the enemy of the constitution; the first, because it has not the will to make any innovation; the second, because it will not be entrusted with the power.
But between these two parties there is a third, composed of those whom Tory immobility disgusts, and whom Radicalism terrifies; who, sincerely attached to the institutions of the country, nevertheless believe that they may be modified, and who, by turns ardent in attack and zealous in defence, admit enough of reform to advance the onward progress of democracy, and at the same time are sufficiently moderate in change not to alarm the aristocratic influences of England. This middle party is that of the Whigs.
From the few preceding words, it will be at once evident that it would not be in the power of the Whigs to execute all the changes which we have shown to be necessary in Ireland; for a destruction is what is required in that country, and the natural inclinations of the Whigs do not lead them beyond reform. In fact, it is only on the condition of destroying nothing that they retain the power of reform; but we may also see that whilst the Whigs are interdicted from entirely abolishing the institutions of Ireland, they at least derive from their principles the faculty, and from their interests the desire, of effecting great innovations.
The Whigs, who have the will to execute reforms, of which the Tories are destitute, possess also the power in which the Radicals are deficient; for they are at present the ruling party in Great Britain. They have, besides, motives of a different nature to effect reforms in Ireland; innumerable evils have accumulated in that country during the period that the Tories, enemies of all change, possessed power;1 the Whigs, who, after fifty years of exclusion, are come back to power, must naturally apply their remedies where the most grievous wounds are to be healed.
This generous disposition is strengthened by personal feelings. They are so much the more inclined to carry on reforms in Ireland, as they are prevented from effecting them in England. In the latter country, political parties are so uncertain and so divided, and the passions most favourable to the Whigs so uncertain and variable, that they have a great difficulty in devising a reform which, while it satisfies one division of their supporters, will not offend others. Still they must continue to reform so long as they carry on the government; this was the sole object for which they were restored to power. If conservation alone were required from the rulers, the charge would be entrusted to the Tories, whose business and right are the maintenance of existing institutions. Thus, always compelled to advance, and not knowing how to take a step without stumbling, the Whigs willingly turn to Ireland, which opens to them a limitless career of reform, and gives them ground less difficult to hold, because the conservative passions of England are there less violent.
Since the Whigs have the power of doing many things for Ireland, and since, at the same time, they are limited in their sphere of action, it becomes necessary to inquire what acts are within their reach, and what beyond their power. It is important to know how far they can advance in the reform of Irish institutions; which of the wants of Ireland they will be able to satisfy, and which they will be unable to supply, and what influence on the country and its future condition will be produced by the reforms within their power; in one word, we must investigate how far they can apply to the evils of Ireland the remedy already indicated; that is to say, the abolition of the civil, political, and religious privileges of the aristocracy.
Reform of Religious Privileges.
The first, and perhaps the greatest, advantage which the Whigs possess over the Tories in all questions relating to Ireland is, that they are not at once stopped short by the obstacle of the church.
The Whigs are assuredly attached to the Anglican church, and prove themselves its ardent partisans; but they do not, like the others, insist on its preservation at any price. The Tories say, “Let Ireland perish rather than the Anglican church.” On the contrary, the Whigs say, “Let us save Ireland, and also endeavour to preserve the church.” The former would consent to make some reforms in Ireland, provided the church could be maintained in all its privileges and monopolies; in other words, they would offer some partial remedies to the country on condition of leaving intact the primary cause of its evils. The Whigs, on the contrary, look first to the miseries of Ireland, and the necessity of effecting their cure. They would be anxious to establish peace and tranquillity in the country without touching the church; but if, in pursuing this object, they are impeded by any abuses of the church, without any regard to the Anglican principle that fetters them, they abolish the principle and the abuse.
We everywhere find in the acts of the Tories and Whigs the consequences of this difference at starting. Take for example the doctrines and proceedings of each respecting the religious instruction of the people.
For more than a century the lower classes of Ireland were deprived of every kind of instruction, simply because they were Catholics, and the only schools in Ireland were Protestant. The Tories were then in power; and when reproached with an institution which gave the poor Irish no choice between ignorance and apostasy, they replied, as they still maintain, that national education is a privilege of the church which ought not to be taken away.
The Whigs, on the contrary, believing that the instruction of the people is essential to the safety of Ireland, recognise primarily the necessity of education; and as it has been clearly proved that Irish Catholics will not send their children to Protestant schools, the Whigs have been forced to attack the monopoly of the church; and, in spite of opposition, they have established new schools from which everything sectarian is banished, and where religious liberty is assured to all creeds. The establishment of these national schools was one of the first acts of the Whigs, and there is not one that does them greater honour.1
The Tory party believes the rights of the church so sacred, that a violation of them appears the greatest of evils; and when Ireland contests one of the rights of the church, for instance when it resists the payment of tithes, the Tories believe that the church should, at all hazards, be maintained in the integrity of its privileges: if the whole nation resists, its resistance must be beaten down, and the last Irishman exterminated, rather than that tithes should remain unpaid. In similar circumstances, the Whigs act differently; like the Tories, they wish the debts due to the church should be paid; they even prescribe this duty as one of rigorous obligation; but when they find the whole population rebellious, they do not take the same means of quelling the rebellion; they try rigorous means, but they do not persevere in them; they stop short at the commencement of the sanguinary career which the Tories traverse completely; the general interests of the country appear to them superior to those of the church, which nevertheless touch them nearly. They then endeavour to appease the people without overthrowing the church. They do not abolish tithes, the suppression of which would be a great blow to the church; but they endeavour, by modifying the institution, to render it less odious, and, by calming the popular passions, to render the government of the country possible.
It was thus that, in 1832, the Whigs abolished the most unpopular ecclesiastical tax, church-rates. And thus, in 1838, judging from the experience of five years that the Irish were resolved to pay no more tithes, the Whigs reduced the tithes one fourth, and transferred the obligation of payment from the tenant to the landlord. Such changes do not attack the evil in its root, but they render it less painful.
It does not enter into Whig principles to abolish religious supremacy in Ireland, which would be the first condition of peace and prosperity in the country; but they can at least render the fatal principle, which they do not destroy, less offensive and less odious, and that is a great deal. The Anglican church is not the only wound of Ireland, but it is the most sensitive, and the cure of the others is impossible if it be not assuaged. This is the reason why, under present circumstances, the Whigs alone can govern Ireland.
If the Whigs were animated by mere vulgar ambition, it would be their interest, so long as they retain the government, to protract the reform of the Irish church; for, so long as that church shall be maintained with all its defects in the midst of the violent passions it excites, accession to power will be very difficult to the Tories, whose very name would drive Ireland into insurrection, and who could not make their peace with that country, unless they began by attacking the religious institution to whose support they are so firmly bound.
Still, when we see the Irish church attacked by the Whigs, we can understand that this is not the object to which they would choose to apply their reforming principles, for it is the battle-field on which they feel least at ease. If they struggle first against the church when they enter on the career of reform, it is because the church is the first adversary that they find before them, and which they must either overcome, or withdraw from the contest. The reform of the church, then, is not so much an object which they pursue, as an obstacle which they labour to remove.
What Reforms the Whigs can make in the civil privileges of the Irish Aristocracy.
Now that the religious obstacle is removed, what reforms may be made in the civil and political privileges of the aristocracy? This question presents difficulties whose importance will be understood in the sequel. The English Whigs are certainly very aristocratic in most of their passions and principles; a single fact will justify this assertion: they have governed England for about eight years.
On the other hand, we are forced to recognise that they have effected many reforms, the effect, if not the principle, of which is singularly democratic. Thus parliamentary reform, municipal reform, the withdrawal of certain powers from justices of peace by the New Poor Law, are the work of the Whigs. Thus many acts favourable to democracy have been passed by the aristocratic Whigs. Is there not here at least an apparent contradiction? In what, then, are they democrats? In what are they aristocrats?
This inconsistency in the character of the English Whigs will disappear, if we take care to distinguish between the principles by which they govern civil society, and those which they apply to political society.
If we study the doctrines of those Whigs who approximate most closely to Radicalism, we shall find that they go so far as to sacrifice a part of the political privileges which belong to large properties in England.1 Doubtless they deem it just that a certain number of men, by the mere chances of birth and fortune, should have a right to govern their fellows,—should be justices of the peace because they are rich, and legislators because they are lords. Still they do not consider the institution of justices of the peace or of lords as inviolable.
Thus they admit that if the House of Peers became an obstacle to innovations considered necessary, this body ought to be, not abolished, but reformed, and composed of persons who had acquired, either by great personal merit, or by fortune, the right of representing a principle or an interest in parliament; they would willingly invite a greater number of citizens to take a share in affairs of state; and whilst they extended the circle of electoral capacity, they would increase the number of functions conferred by popular election. Thus it would not be contrary to their principles to organise county-boards, where citizens, elected by the people, would perform the functions now exercised by justices of peace. Their tendency, then, would be, by enlarging popular representation, to give, by elections, that administration to the middle classes, of which the landed proprietors have the privilege and the monopoly. In this body of doctrines there is assuredly a very democratic leaning.
But these same men, who would allow equality to be established in political society, do not show the same tolerance when the question of regulating civil society is mooted. They do not obstinately adhere to the preservation of the hereditary right of sitting in parliament to the eldest son; but they obstinately defend the right of the eldest son to take the whole of his father’s inheritance, to the exclusion of his brothers and sisters. They can understand that the government of society ought not to be placed in the hands of a narrow oligarchy; but when the political privilege is suppressed, they will consent that this oligarchy shall have the monopoly of half the land in England, and keep it for ever by means of entails and civil laws, which render land to some extent inalienable in its hands; that is to say, whilst they consent to introduce equality into political life, they are firmly resolved to maintain inequality in civil society.
The Whigs thus form in their minds, and strive to establish in the country, two distinct zones, as it were, in each of which they establish a different principle of government, as democratic in the one as it is aristocratic in the other; and, as if there existed no intimate link between the government of a people and its habits, they do not appear to suspect that the doctrine of equality admitted into the state can ever enter into the family; and they seem to believe that property will remain the monopoly of a few, after political rights have been shared between all. This is not the place for examining how far such a distinction is logical, and whether this artificial separation between the man and the citizen can be durable; but it is important to show that this theory is a summary of the principles of the most advanced Whigs, because it contains a primary solution of the important question mooted at the beginning of our inquiry.
In fact, cannot everybody see that, from the very nature of this doctrine, the English Whigs neither could nor would abolish the civil privileges of the Irish aristocracy; that is to say, reform the laws which keep nearly the whole soil of Ireland in the hands of that body? Does it not also follow that though the Whigs, according to their own principles, cannot reform the civil privileges of the Irish aristocracy, they may be led by the same principles to abolish its political privileges? The first of these consequences is simple, and requires no comment; it clearly shows what, in such a case, the Whigs cannot do. The second, not less manifest, is rather more complicated; for, while showing how the Whigs, in another case, may effect several things, it is necessary to inquire what those things are. Let us then see what changes the Whigs can introduce into the political society of Ireland, and what political privileges of the aristocracy it is in their power to reform.
Reforms which the Whigs might make in the political Privileges of the Irish Aristocracy.
The Whigs, when in power, may attack the Irish aristocracy in two ways easily distinguished from each other. 1. By general reforms in the constitution, equally applicable to England, Ireland, and Scotland. 2. By reforms special to Ireland.
General Reforms.—Vote by Ballot.
Among the number of Whig reforms which, extending over the three kingdoms, would of course affect Ireland, the most important is vote by ballot, because it has often been discussed in parliament, and has made such progress as to be now admitted as an open question.
It is an opinion generally diffused amongst the English Whigs and Radicals, that if the parliamentary reform of 1832, which more than doubled popular representation, has not produced all the democratic effects expected from it, this result must be attributed to the mode in which the electors give their suffrage; that is to say, by public vote, which places them under the influence of the aristocracy; and it is supposed that if the vote were secret, as in France, the electors, rendered more independent, would prove more friendly to the reforms demanded by the popular will.
Without examining this question here under its different aspects, it will be sufficient to observe, that were the principle of secret voting adopted at elections, the democratic advantage of the change would be, at the least, doubtful in Ireland.
It is easy to conceive the support which secret voting would give to the independence of democratic voters, where the aristocracy is not only an established power, but moreover a dominant power, whose empire is accepted. The vote by ballot is a weapon of the weak against the strong. But, for the very same reason, might it not have an opposite effect in Ireland, where democracy is the popular power, and aristocracy the power feeble and assailed?
The Irish elector has no absolute need of the ballot to be independent. In truth, we must allow that the resistance he makes to the efforts of corruption may bring evils on his head from which he would be sheltered by the secret vote;—tenants are expelled from their farms for having voted against their landlords, and these might escape these cruel reprisals if protected by the ballot. But such acts of vengeance, which ruin some unfortunate beings, are also fatal to their authors; in the first place, they prove the powerlessness of corruption, which never loses temper save when it is inefficacious, and they excite in the highest degree popular resentment against the aristocracy.
Secrecy of voting, which is not in Ireland absosolutely necessary to the independence of those who attack the aristocracy, might possibly injure the democracy by protecting those who oppose it. We must not forget, that besides the influence of the upper classes at an election, there is also the influence of the people: now this influence, powerful in public voting, wholly ceases under the ballot.
There is something solemn in England, but more especially in Ireland, when the electors openly name the representative they choose in the presence of a countless assembly, which presses round them, excites, conjures, supplicates, menaces them, blesses those who vote in accordance with popular feelings, reviles and execrates those who pronounce the name of an enemy, and causes to be heard the great and terrible voice of the people, which, though often unjust, is always sincere, and always imposing even to those who affect to despise it. In England, the eye of the rich is most feared by the voter; in Ireland, the observation of the poor man is the object of dread.
Thus, vote by ballot, though favourable to democracy in England, might in Ireland prove advantageous to the aristocracy.
Political Reforms peculiar to Ireland, which the Whigs might make in Parishes and Municipal Corporations.
The reforms which the Whigs are making or may make in the political powers of the aristocracy, have necessarily for their object the powers belonging to that body, either in the state, the country, the corporate towns, or the parishes. When they abolished church-rates in 1833, they destroyed a privilege, at once religious and political, exercised by the Anglican aristocracy in the Irish parish. Here we may add, that they have no other reform to make, for the Irish parish, of which the whole life was an abuse, may be said no longer to exist, since the abuse has been abolished.
The Whigs would wish to affect a reform not less extensive in the municipal corporations of Ireland, and which would be more complete, for here they undertake not only to destroy but to rebuild. They are anxious to destroy the Anglican and aristocratic monopoly of these corporations, and to construct on their ruins a free and democratic municipal organisation.1 The abuses of the Irish municipalities were so gross and revolting, that their most zealous partisans were forced to abandon them; and the only question at issue between Whigs and Tories is the amount of qualification which shall determine the right of citizenship. (Even this difference has been so narrowed by the bill of the present year, that the question may be considered as settled. Corporation reform will probably pass this session, and certainly cannot be delayed longer than the next; it is therefore unnecessary to pursue the discussion.)
The reform of the political powers possessed by the Irish aristocracy in the municipal corporations, and of those which it formerly held in the parish, is doubtless important; but that which is of greatest weight, that without which all others would be nearly vain, is the reform of the privileges belonging to the aristocracy in the counties. It is in the county that the aristocracy must be attacked, if the blow is designed for its heart; there are the justices of the peace, there are the grand juries, and we must particularly know what reforms the Whigs can execute in the Irish counties, if we wish to have the exact measure of their ability to attack the Irish aristocracy in its political powers.
Reforms which the Whigs may effect in the County.
We have already shown, that in order to overthrow the political powers of the Irish aristocracy, the first step should be to centralise the administration of the counties: the first question, then, is to know if the Whigs can execute this system of centralisation. Here it is especially necessary to distinguish between the principles which guide the Whigs in the government of England, and those which they apply to their administration in Ireland.
Since the Whigs have come into power, a certain tendency towards centralisation in the administration of public affairs is perceptible. This tendency is necessarily exhibited in every county, where either democracy or absolute power aim at establishing themselves; for, as both aspire to level ranks, they have need of an instrument of equality. As we see, then, democracy develope itself in England, we may be sure that its progress will be manifested by some effort at centralisation. Thus, the Reform Bill of 1832 was followed by three laws tending to centralise relief to the poor, prison discipline, and a system of civil registration: laws purely social in their object, but essentially political by the new forms of administration which they introduce into the state, and which perhaps, for this reason, may be regarded as the most marked expression of the democratic movement that England received from the revolution of 1830. Still a person would be deceived, who supposed that these laws had any analogy to the system of centralisation established in France, provincial or municipal.
With the French, when any local power, aristocratic or democratic, is abolished, the destruction tends to the profit of the central government, which takes to itself the entire suppressed authority, and exercises it easily by one of its innumerable agents.
When the central government in England attacks the aristocracy, it does not proceed so openly and so plainly; it advances on this course with extreme prudence and great reserve; it spares the very power that it wishes to despoil. Thus, when the Whigs deprived the aristocracy of the exclusive administration of the poor laws, they instituted a central commission in London, to maintain uniform principles of public charity throughout England; but, at the same time, they instituted local boards, composed partly of justices of peace, and partly of citizens elected under qualifications which tend to give the administration to the middle classes.
It is assuredly a phenomenon worthy of observation, that this system of semi-centralisation, by which power is secured at the centre, should at the same time extend it to the circumference; it seems as if the two principles which we have already seen disputing empire with each other, Norman centralisation and Saxon liberty, had made their peace, and were for the future united against the aristocracy as a common enemy, which is thus pressed upon both by the prince and the people.
This moderate centralisation, which inflicts very feeble blows on the aristocracy, satisfies almost all the friends of reform in England, where the desire of weakening the aristocracy does not prevent a fear of despotism in the central government; and this fear is more natural in England than any other country. If, in countries less free, it is perilous to establish an absolute system of centralisation, because it may at some future time produce an invincible obstacle to the development of liberty, how much more formidable is this danger to a people amongst whom liberty exists, and where, consequently, the danger is not to compromise the greatest of blessings in the future, but to lose it in the very moment of enjoyment? At this moment there is not a parish or municipality in England which does not form a true republic, a free democracy. Would the English people act wisely, if, in order to aid the central power in striking at the aristocracy, they would resign their rights and liberties to the government, at the risk of not being able to resume them when the enemy had been overthrown? Is not that country in a fortunate position, which, requiring certain reforms in its institutions, can confer on the central authority sufficient power to effect them, without bestowing so much as would render that authority tyrannical?
But though such attempts at centralisation might satisfy England, they would be utterly insufficient for Ireland, where the legitimate passions and interests of the people require that the aristocracy should be openly attacked. The condition of England allows of a doubt, whether it would be better to accomplish a rapid reform at the risk of liberty, or accept slower reforms with the certainty of remaining free. But such a question cannot exist for Ireland, where the destruction of the aristocracy is the first of all necessities. Thus, the Whigs employ more potent means of centralisation against the aristocracy in Ireland than in England.
We have already seen how, at the close of the last century, certain powers belonging to the aristocracy were, for the sake of its own interests, taken from it and given to the central government. A judge removable at the will of the viceroy was appointed to preside at the quarter sessions; stipendiary magistrates were appointed to aid the ordinary functions of justices of peace; and, finally, a constabulary force was appointed to protect the properties of the rich. These were so many means taken by the central government to aid and defend the feeble and unskilful aristocracy of which it was the ally and friend.
Scarcely had the Whigs obtained possession of the government, when they turned on the aristocracy the centralisation which had been formerly established for its protection. The assistant-barrister, who formerly received from the central government the mission, tacit or implied, of sustaining the upper classes against the people, is now charged with the support of the people against the aristocracy. Formerly he employed all his art to conceal the injustice or the incapacity of the justices of peace, now he labours to throw a veil over the faults or errors of the people. The stipendiary magistrates are now appointed, not to aid, but to supply the place of justices of the peace. They amounted to eighty-one in 1837, fifty of whom had been nominated since 1835. These stipendiaries are popular in Ireland; they generally act better than the aristocracy, and in all cases they have the merit of not being its agents. Finally, the constabulary force has been completely centralised since 1836, and its direction transferred from the aristocracy to the viceroy.
But not only do the Whigs turn against the aristocracy the old laws which were passed to give it strength; they also endeavour to create new instruments of centralisation, or to perfect those which already exist. Justices of peace, since the year 1831, have been subjected to a regular system of superintendence;1 the powers of grand juries have been restrained, and their deliberations opened to the public: finally, three central administrations have been formed in Ireland, each of which has inflicted a blow, more or less grave, on the aristocracy. The first is the Board of Public Works; the second, the Board of National Education; and the third, the Board of Poor Law Commissioners. The first is the one which strikes most directly against the power of the aristocracy in the counties, since it gives the government means of accomplishing those objects of which the grand juries had formerly the exclusive direction: the other two attain the same end indirectly—the former, because the establishment of a system of public charity demonstrates the indifference of the rich for the poor; the second, because it bestows knowledge on the people, and thus gives it new strength against its enemies.2
We have now seen how far the Whigs have employed centralisation to reform the institutions of Ireland. We see that they proceed less timidly in Ireland than in England; not that they transfer in a mass to the central government the powers of the humbled aristocracy, but that they centralise a part, confer new attributes on the government, and trammel the power of the aristocracy in the portion of authority which it still retains. They are, however, far from effecting all the political reforms required in Ireland. They reform rather than overthrow the aristocracy of the counties; they weaken, they mutilate, but they do not venture to destroy it. We also found among the Whigs, though not so prominently as in other parties, that eternal tendency of English governments to make reforms in Ireland similar to those in England, and the constant disposition, when they displace a power, rather to distribute it among all ranks of society, than to give it to the central government alone. Thus it may be looked upon as probable, that if the Whigs abolished grand juries in counties, their functions would not be transferred to the central government, but to bodies chosen by popular election; a liberal, but a complicated system, suited to a country where the different classes of society, whose concurrence is desired, live in perfect harmony, but which is, perhaps, ill suited to Ireland, where the middle class is still in its infancy, where the people want the habit of self-guidance, and where the aristocracy is so antinational, that it is requisite not to look to the regulation, but to the abolition of its powers; an insufficient system in a country where the central government, though backed by the popular will, is far from being too strong in its contest with the aristocracy.
Reforms which the Whigs may effect in the State.
We have seen what political reforms the Whigs may effect in the parishes, the municipal corporations, and the counties; the state remains to be considered. During the entire time that the Tories governed Ireland, the aristocracy possessed an immense political privilege in the state, namely—the constant favour, or rather the partiality, of the executive power.
The principles established by law are doubtless important, but the spirit in which they are enforced is of still greater weight. Now, under the rule of the Tories, the laws theoretically designed to protect the Irish aristocracy were also administered so as to gratify the most ardent passions of that body. It was then a received tradition among the governors of Ireland, that the laws were made for the aristocracy against the people, with the sole object of keeping the latter in servitude, and protecting the former against resistance. If a Catholic complained to government against a Protestant, or a poor man against a rich, the appeal was received with indifference or contempt. Justice itself, from the way in which it was administered by the agents of government, was corrupted at its very source. To give only one example, it was a constant custom at criminal trials in Tory times for the clerk of the crown to set aside Catholic jurors, and endeavour to form a jury composed exclusively of Protestants.
At this period the Orange party in Ireland was so powerful from the support given it by the executive power, that it would with impunity trample the popular party under its feet. Every year the anniversary of the battle of the Boyne, the triumph of Protestants over Catholics, was celebrated with all the demonstrations most insulting to the vanquished. Not only did the government permit these insolent provocations of a faction to an entire people, but moreover if the humiliated people dared to raise its head, and struggle against its oppressors, the central power supported the latter in their tyranny, and placed the police and the army at their disposal.
The Whigs have introduced different maxims and proceedings into the government; they have prohibited Orange processions; they have endeavoured to render the administration of justice impartial, by leaving the jury-box accessible to citizens of every creed; they proclaim the principle, that public authority is instituted as much for the benefit of the people as of the upper classes, and if their balance inclined to one side more than the other, the scale would turn in favour of the poor, rather than of the rich.
In fact, it is sufficient to glance at Ireland, in order to discover that the Whig government not only withholds from the aristocracy the exorbitant protection which it received from the Tories, but also that it treats the aristocracy as a hostile body. The Whigs not only do not confer on that body the employments of which it formerly had the monopoly, they sometimes take away those which it still possesses. If a justice of peace, being a large landed proprietor, commits any fault, the government takes the opportunity of supplying his place by a stipendiary magistrate. If any public functionary takes a leading part as head of the Orange faction, he is dismissed very unceremoniously.
At the same time that the Whigs take away from the Irish aristocracy the favours and graces of the executive power, they also grant these favours and graces to the most violent enemies of that aristocracy:2 they appoint the most eminent men of the national party to public functions; they endeavour to increase the number of Catholics in the commission of the peace; from the lowest to the highest employments, from a seat on the bench to a place in the police, they select agents of the popular party. In truth, the Whig government of Ireland and the aristocracy of the country are at open war.
This proceeding of the government is not intelligible at first sight: though it is easy to comprehend why the Whigs in this country, as in England, should be the adversaries of the Tories, it is not so easy to understand why they should display a hostility to the entire aristocratic party which they do not manifest in England. In the latter country the most Radical law emanating from the Whigs is tempered in its execution, and even when directed against certain powers of the aristocracy, the government does not attack the aristocracy itself. In Ireland, on the contrary, the application of such a law by the Whigs is always more hostile to the aristocracy than the law itself. Whence does this difference arise?
The cause is to be found in the nature of the parties existing in the two countries. We have already seen that there are only two extreme parties in Ireland, the Tories and the Radicals; the Whig party is there unknown. We have also seen that the English government established in Ireland, is under the absolute necessity of making a choice between the two parties, and attaching itself to one or the other; and that when it has declared for one of the two, it must give itself up to that one, body and soul, and yield to all its impulses.
When the Tories had the power, their representatives in Ireland inevitably fell under the yoke of the Orange party, of which they were the slaves, when they only wished to be its allies. When the Whigs succeeded to power, they were inevitably at the mercy of the opposite party; they had not even an opportunity for deliberating whether they would join the popular party. They found themselves necessarily fixed on that side, by the simple fact that the aristocracy, of which the Tory party is the sole expression, immediately assumed an attitude of hostility.
Perhaps it would be just to say, that the executive power in Ireland is more completely annihilated by its fusion with the popular party, than by its alliance with the aristocratic party. In the latter case it only sides with a faction hated by the people; it is, therefore, better able to regulate the assistance it affords; indeed it may limit itself to defending the party when attacked, and may withdraw its aid when that party becomes the aggressor. On the contrary, when the executive power in Ireland adopts the national cause, it is more irresistibly dragged on with it, and more blindly hurried forward by the popular torrent on which it is embarked.
It is not without some degree of alarm and repugnance that the English Whigs form the alliances which they are forced to contract in Ireland. They cannot, doubtless, but be disposed to strike at the Tory or aristocratic party, which has been their merciless adversary; but they are troubled not by the fate of their enemies, whom they combat but by the strength of the friends whom they mistrust. They would gladly see the Orange party fall in Ireland, and feel no disquietude, if the formidable power of a democratic party did not rise on its ruins. They fear the triumphs of their allies almost as much as the success of their adversaries, and timidly inflict a blow which, whilst it overthrows a detested enemy, may exalt a formidable friend. Their favourite object would be the creation of a Whig party, but they have made the attempt in vain. When the government in Ireland takes the side of the people, it becomes the instrument of the popular party.
We now see why the English Whigs are forced to be Radicals in Ireland: and this explains the clamour which the English Tories incessantly raise against the Whig government of Ireland, which, say they, and not without reason, gives to the laws enacted by parliament a more democratic application than the legislature intended. Hence also, we can understand why the Radicals of Ireland are much better satisfied with a Whig administration than those of England.
Although the Whigs do not give Ireland the institutions which the country would wish, still they do much for her by executing the laws according to her interests and desires. This is the reason why O’Connell and all his friends have separated from the English Radicals in their late attacks on the Whigs. The Irish Radicals care little for what occurs in Canada, or even England itself, compared with what passes in Ireland. It is of little importance to them that parliament refuses to reform church-rates in England, after having abolished them in Ireland. They forgive the Whigs for being every day less radical in England, provided they do not retrograde in Ireland.
The attacks of the Whig government on the Irish aristocracy have not all the effect which might at the first glance be attributed to them. Almost all the reforms which are the work of an executive government are frail and transitory. When that changes, they disappear with it; if a Tory administration gained possession of power, it would soon put in force the old principles of government, and restore the aristocratic spirit to the execution of the laws. Most of the liberal institutions which seem the best established, such, for instance, as the system of national education, would receive a direction from the Tories which would change its principles. The public force, that is to say, the police and army, which the Whigs have placed at the service of the national party, would be soon restored to the disposal of the aristocratic party. These two bodies, blindly subject to the principle of passive obedience, would certainly sustain the popular party, so long as the government would require of them such support; but being for the most part composed of Englishmen and Protestants, they are at bottom friends to the Tory and Protestant party in Ireland; if another administration gave them different orders, they would much rather fire on the Catholics, whom they are now forced to protect, than injure the Anglicans, to whom they are now placed in opposition.
Still the administration of the Whigs is a great benefit to Ireland, not only in the present, but as regards the future. It has taught the Irish that there may exist among the English a party favourable to the people; and, consequently, that all governments coming from England need not necessarily be hateful.
The English Whigs have the advantage of being able to govern Ireland without having recourse to violent measures, with which the Tories could not dispense. For more than half a century, that is to say, from the time when oppressed Ireland awoke from its servitude, the English government has been unable to keep the country in obedience, without a certain number of exceptional laws, which, under the name of insurrection acts, or coercion bills, invested the central authority with extraordinary powers, to be used at its discretion. The chief of these powers consisted in proclaiming a county, and arbitrarily changing the jurisdiction in criminal matters; for instance, bringing before a court-martial crimes committed in a proclaimed county.
These extraordinary powers were exercised not merely for the suppression of political enterprises, such as seditions, rebellions, or conspiracies against the state. Their first object was rather to reach crimes of a social character; they had particularly in view the constant and terrible war waged by the people of Ireland against the persons and properties of the rich. When the aristocracy of Ireland had the executive power on its side, it employed its political influence to exercise greater social oppression. It maltreated the poor and feeble with less reserve; it crushed more resolutely the wretch who rebelled against its rigours, when the cry of the unhappy found no echo, and when fearful laws checked his projects of retaliation. Thus, protected by a sort of legal terror, the rich in Ireland were more at their ease, collected exorbitant rents with less trouble, and practised their tyranny more tranquilly. Now these laws have been almost wholly abolished by the Whigs. They have only preserved in the government of Ireland a mere shadow of the coercion bill, a legal phantom, of which they make no use.
There are two principal reasons which compel every Tory administration to enforce these exceptional laws in Ireland: the first is, that these laws are demanded from them by the aristocracy on which they depend; and the second is, that their attainment of power revolts Ireland, and they are thus driven to violent means of repression. This is what renders a return to power so difficult to the Tories, for they would be forced at the very outset to establish a cruel and sanguinary system of rule in Ireland. This, also, is the great merit of the Whigs, that they can govern Ireland without having recourse to those odious laws, which violate common right and common humanity.
It must not be supposed that the Whig government of Ireland does not repress the attacks made on the persons and properties of the rich. It represses them, but in a different way. In the first place, outrages are less frequent under Whig rule, because the rich, having less power and privilege, do not excite so much hatred; and then, when outrages are committed, the punishment of them is entrusted to the ordinary courts of justice.
This regular and moderate system of repression, the only one which the Whigs authorise, is, doubtless, unsatisfactory to the passions of the Irish aristocracy, accustomed to special protection, and which, through fear of a criminal being acquitted by a jury, exclaims that society is menaced with dissolution; that security of person and property no longer exists, that justice cannot have its course under the ordinary laws, and demands that the insurrection act should be immediately enforced.
Very lately the aristocracy of the county of Tipperary unanimously applied to the central government to have that county placed under the insurrection act, averring that such protection was necessary, in consequence of the systematic war waged by the poor against the person and the properties of the rich. But their request was refused, and the Whigs, justly persuaded that the outrages which desolate that country have been provoked by the selfishness and improvidence of the rich, had the courage to tell the aristocracy of Tipperary a great truth too long misunderstood in Ireland. They reminded the petitioners that property perils its rights when it neglects its duties.
Thus, the Whig government of Ireland, doubtless, does not destroy the political power of the aristocracy, but it combats that body; with the incomplete arms it possesses, it could not better sustain the struggle against so formidable an adversary as the aristocratic body; it could not more skilfully weaken the enemy which it is unable to destroy.
In fine, the Whigs are doubtless unable to effect all the reforms in Ireland which the safety of the country would require; they can only make political reforms, for which they are best adapted, of a partial and transitory nature; the religious reforms which they attempt are fundamentally wrong, since they leave untouched the base, the Anglican principle, which is the first grievance of Ireland; and they do not even attempt the reform of the civil privileges which are the soul of the aristocracy. But though the Whigs do not cure the evils of Ireland, they have at least the power of alleviating them; they gain time, they accustom England to attend to the country, and they expose to view its most hideous wounds.
Thus we may say, as a summary of all parties, the Radicals have never been tried, and Ireland knows not what to expect from them;—she has known the rule of the Tories, who can only drive her to revolt;—the Whigs do not give her satisfaction, but they keep her quiet.
GENERAL SURVEY OF THE STATE OF IRELAND—CONCLUSION—A GLANCE AT THE POLITICAL AND RELIGIOUS FUTURE OF THE COUNTRY.
The facts are now known. We have seen with what evils unfortunate Ireland is afflicted;—how a bad aristocracy is the primary and permanent source of all its misfortunes;—what symptoms of resistance, and what elements of democracy, this bad government has produced in the country. We have also examined the means necessary to produce order and peace. Finally, we have investigated what England ought to do, and what probably she will not do; and we have seen that the English party, which is least incapable of governing Ireland, is nevertheless unable to accomplish the fundamental reforms required by the state of the country.
Now that the conditions of the problem are stated, what is to be its solution? What will be the consequence of such a state of things to Ireland and to England herself? What are we to conclude for the present;—what to conjecture for the future? Let us pause for a moment, and then advance slowly on the road of speculation and conjecture.
The state of affairs which we have described, is, doubtless, extraordinary and singularly complicated, but it is still the clear result of circumstances. Ireland, convinced that her misery arises from her institutions, must wish to destroy them; England, who sees in her institutions the principal cause of prosperity and greatness, naturally desires to preserve them. The great difficulty then is, that the same political rule which is salutary to one people is pernicious to the other; and that one feels it must die of the government which is the very life of the other. If the laws which are dear to England are maintained, Ireland remains with all its sufferings and all its perils: if it is resolved that they should be cured, the only remedy that can be employed is painful to England. The difficulty, in fine, is, that two nations to whom a common system of rule is fatal, each requiring a different code of laws, are still obliged to live under the same constitution; and that, forming one and the same empire, they are subjected to a single authority, whose acts are salutary to the one, and ruinous to the other.
If England and Ireland have such opposite interests, and if it is so injurious to both to form a single people, it would seem that the only remedy would be, that they should separate, and form a distinct state, having its own nationality and proper government. This expedient would, doubtless, remove all difficulties, but we may boldly predict that it will not be adopted. In fact, it is sufficient to consider the geographical position of Ireland and England, to see that the latter will never renounce her sovereignty over the former, reland is a vital member of the British empire,—a gangrened member, but one without which the empire could not exist. In truth, if any convulsion of the globe sank Ireland in the bottom of the seas, England might be strengthened by the loss; but whilst this country, holding the place of an arm to the body, keeps its present position in the ocean, England must assert supremacy over it.
In all times Ireland has been the aim of the enemies of England; she was so in the twelfth century; for history informs us, that the use which France might have made of her was one of the causes that induced the English kings to undertake her conquest. When, in the age of the Reformation, a plan was formed by Catholic Europe for striking at Protestantism in England, it was on Ireland that Spain cast her eyes, and it was on that country that the famous armada of Philip II. disembarked. It was to Ireland that Louis XIV. sent the army destined to aid the Catholic James II. in regaining the throne occupied by the Protestant William III. And when republican and democratic France struggled against the European coalition of which England was the soul, she could devise no surer means of success than to send an army to Ireland; and for this purpose she prepared three successive expeditions in less than two years. Assuredly these different attempts at invasion have not been prosperous, and Ireland has always so feebly seconded the efforts of strangers, that she cannot be reckoned as a certain ally to the enemies of England.
Still England sees Ireland too near her not to wish to retain its management; she cannot consent to see a country isolated from her, from which she is only separated by a narrow strait, and whence an Irish or foreign army within sight of her shores might invade her territories in a few hours. And it is precisely because Ireland is Catholic and democratic, that aristocratic and Protestant England cannot leave her independent, and abandon her to her sympathies for nations whose political and religious institutions are repugnant to England, from the same causes that render them agreeable to Ireland. Independent of these considerations, what nation would consent to its own dismemberment? Does not every power, whose territory is diminished, appear to be on the decline? England, who would not consent at any price to the loss of Canada, which is fifteen hundred leagues from her, will assuredly not abandon Ireland, which seems like a portion of herself.
But, though we may regard it as certain that Ireland will never form a state separate from England, may it not happen that the two countries, remaining still united by political ties, might be legislatively separated; that is to say, be under the same imperial government, but have each its own parliament,—obey the same sovereign, yet have special laws adapted to their different interests? This parliamentary separation was, in 1833, the wish of nearly all Ireland; and at this very moment O’Connell declares that it is the only certain salvation for Ireland, if she does not obtain the reforms she requires from the English parliament.
We cannot confidently affirm that no such legislative separation will ever take place; in the first place, the fact proves it to be possible since it existed for six centuries previous to the legislative union in 1800; and it would, perhaps, be wrong to deduce an absolute objection from the servility and baseness of the old Irish parliaments, for if the parliament of Ireland were restored, might it not be established on a basis calculated to secure its independence?
But there are so many other grave and weighty objections to the re-establishment of the Irish legislature, that we may take it as nearly certain that it will never take place: this may be shown in a few words. Why does the English parliament not give Ireland the political and religious laws that she claims? It is not that the English legislators deem the institutions of Ireland the best that the country can have, but because they believe it dangerous to abolish them. They fear that the blow which levelled these institutions in a neighbouring country, would shake them at home; and that the law which struck at the aristocracy in one island, might affect the other by contagion of principle. Now, England would have precisely the same subjects of alarm, if Ireland obtained the power of making laws for herself.
When two nations are so close as England and Ireland, there can be no commotion in one which will not agitate the other. Under the publicity essential to the free institutions of Great Britain, each of the two nations must know every day what passes in the other. Now, supposing that the physical interests of the two countries, such as commerce and manufactures, should not, as in former times, be a source of perpetual collisions between the two legislatures, would not the discussion of political questions alone produce great embarrassment, and serious disputes? What could England say or do, if, for instance, the Irish parliament, yielding to the wishes of the country, abolished the principle of the Anglican church; and, after having overturned the religious privileges of the aristocracy, destroyed its civil and political privileges, dismissed justices of the peace and grand juries, set aside the laws of entail and primogeniture, and removed all the impediments to a free trade in land? Does any one believe that the adoption of such measures in Ireland would not find a formidable echo in England, and rouse the conservative passions of that country? Would England, while she believes herself so interested in maintaining the aristocracy and established church at home, tamely view their abolition in a neighbouring country, and in a country too which forms part of her empire?
Evidently one of two things would happen; either the Irish parliament, through fear or corruption, would submit to the good pleasure of England; and whilst preserving the outward forms of an independent body, would only make such laws as would suit English taste; and in such a case we cannot see what advantage Ireland would derive from a legislature, the servile instrument of those from whose power she is anxious to escape. Or, the Irish parliament escaping such influences, would freely and boldly enter on an examination of Irish grievances, and then England, seeing her own institutions attacked, at least indirectly, would hasten to deprive Ireland of a legislature. An Irish parliament sold to England is not desirable; an independent parliament is impossible. Thus, the two countries cannot be governed by different legislatures, and their parliamentary union must be considered as necessary as their political union.
Thus, England and Ireland, separated by their prejudices, their passions, and their political interests, are united by their destiny. With such different habits and opposite wants, they must adhere together, simply because, on the same day they rose side by side from the depths of ocean; like those monstrous twins, which, condemned by nature to form only one body and the same flesh, have, nevertheless, contrary tastes, and which incessantly afflicted with the desire of parting, are forced to move together, to live and die externally united, but internally discordant.
But what follows from this fatal union? Simply, that the weaker must yield to the stronger; in other terms, Ireland must accept the laws which it pleases England to impose. This is the reason why an established church and an aristocracy exist in Ireland. But are we to conclude from the preceding statements, that Ireland, interested in the destruction of these pernicious institutions, must endure them as long as England is resolved on their maintenance? Shall Ireland be condemned to eternal suffering, because the remedy for her grievances would alarm England? No—there is no reason for coming to so desponding a conclusion.
We may, doubtless, foresee that England will endeavour to maintain her own constitution in Ireland. She believes it dangerous to govern that country otherwise than as she is governed herself; she will endeavour only to make such changes as will give her no cause of fear, and she will attempt to restrain the religious and democratic reform now running its course in that country. This is the system which she has pursued for centuries, and in which she is so deeply engaged, that we cannot see how she could abandon it. But whilst we foresee that she will aim at this object, we may be pretty sure that she will not attain it. For fifty years it has been the object of all her efforts, and they have all been fruitless.
When we consider what has been accomplished in Ireland within half a century, it is impossible not to discover that the institutions founded by the English in that country are attacked at the heart. These institutions breathed Protestantism only; it is undeniable, that the principle which animated them is in rapid decay. How will the destruction that has begun terminate? By what deeds and under what circumstances? Will it be slow or swift—peaceable or violent?—We cannot tell, but it is impossible not to see that it is in preparation, and will come to pass.
Ireland is a country essentially Catholic, and the legal lie which made it a Protestant country is now so shaken to its base, that it cannot long stand. We may, therefore, regard it as certain, that, in a given and no very distant time, the Anglican church will have ceased to be the official and public establishment of Ireland.
The question whether the Catholic religion will become the dominant creed in Ireland, like the Anglican in England, or the Presbyterian in Scotland, is a question of a different nature and of doubtful solution. We have already seen, that the predominance of Catholicism in Ireland would be an injury rather than a benefit to the country. Ireland already possesses religious liberty; what she wants to acquire, and what she doubtless will acquire, is equality of creeds. There are, however, some, who believe that the Anglican creed will long retain its supremacy in Ireland. The British constitution, say they, the fundamental principle of which is Anglican, would cease to exist if the church of Ireland were overthrown. The sovereigns of England, whose right to the throne is a Protestant right, could not consent to the destruction of the supremacy of the church in Ireland without a breach of their coronation oath. Finally, the Irish Catholics, who in 1829 obtained emancipation, on condition of respecting the church and its establishment, would be guilty of perjury if they demanded its ruin.
It would be a great mistake to suppose, that the powers which are working the overthrow of the established church in Ireland will be checked by any such obstacle. Even were the English constitution opposed to its ruin, I would not less believe in the fall of that church; but it is false to assert, that the existence of the British constitution depends on the maintenance of the established church in Ireland. It is one of the great advantages of this constitution, that, not being written, it can never be violated. All requisite changes demanded by opinions or habits may be made without injuring it. This is the reason why Scotland became Presbyterian, and Canada continued Catholic, under the sceptre of England, without any violation of the English constitution. Similar changes in the constitution, so far from destroying it, may be considered as means of its preservation. And why should anybody dwell upon the charge of perjury urged against the Catholics of Ireland, as having obtained large reforms on the condition of asking for no further changes? If the Irish Catholics, in 1829, promised to be contented with parliamentary emancipation, they assuredly made the most insane engagement that can well be imagined; it would be as if they had sworn not to fight so soon as they should be supplied with weapons. And the legislators, who from necessity, not from justice, ceded emancipation on such conditions, would not have been less destitute of common sense: it would have been as if they had said to the Catholics of Ireland: you are already so strong, that we are obliged to cede what we would not give you freely; consequently, we are going to increase your power, on condition that you will never make use of it. These conditions, which it would have been as absurd to offer as to accept, had they been seriously stipulated and taken, would still be purely chimerical. The oaths which a man takes voluntarily, are of value sometimes; those imposed by a party never.
If nothing can stop the reform of the Irish church, the reform of the aristocracy advances not less surely. The members of this aristocracy are always strangers in Ireland; they act as at the time when the conquerors of Ireland had only barbarous hordes to contend against; and yet they are now in presence of a well-disciplined people, guided by a great leader, and conscious of their strength.
The aristocracy of Ireland has from the beginning united its cause to that of England, and its destiny seems to be to live and die with it. Will another aristocracy be constructed on the ruins of that which is crumbling into dust? It is very difficult to tell. The tendencies of the English spirit lead to such a result, but the passions produced and maintained by a detested aristocracy may be an obstacle. And the more this antinational aristocracy will resist the blows directed against it, the more the sentiment opposed to every aristocracy will be strengthened in Ireland; for it is the special hate which it inspires, that blights the privileges of birth and fortune in a country naturally disposed to respect both. It may thus be said, that the system of the Tories which tends to maintain the existing aristocracy intact and inviolable in Ireland, is at the same time the best calculated to ensure its complete ruin, and to prevent its transportation into any other aristocracy; whilst should such a change be made, it will be favoured by the Whigs, who, by reforming the Irish aristocracy, will render it less unpopular, and accustom the Catholics of Ireland to the injustice of privileges, by giving them a share of their advantages.
But if a Catholic aristocracy does not succeed the Protestant aristocracy, which is doomed to perish, what power shall then take its place? Will the government of Ireland become democratic? When we just now showed how the Tory party excites the hatred of the people against the privileged, we at the same time showed how the same party might, in certain cases, aid the development of democracy. But if this democracy triumphs, how will it be established? Under what circumstances? Will it be by a violent revolution, or by a slow and gentle process? Whether it should be by violence or by peaceful means, how can it be constituted in spite of England, who believes herself interested in resisting it? When we consider the passions of Catholic Ireland, it is hard to avoid coming to the conclusion, that the long obstinacy of the Tory party to maintain the privileges of the church and the aristocracy entire, will produce in that country the chances of a general insurrection. What will be the effects of such a revolt? How far will the passions of the people go? Will they attack persons only, or will they likewise assail institutions? And what will England do? How can she leave such an insurrection unpunished, and how can she chastise an entire nation? Supposing that a new government should emanate from tranquil progress or revolutionary changes,—what will be its form? what its principles? what equality will it give the citizens,—that belonging to despotism, or that peculiar to free institutions? Here is a multitude of questions which we can only state, and the solution of which belong to futurity.
But though we cannot tell what power will succeed the Anglican aristocracy in Ireland, we may assume it as certain, that this aristocracy will fall, and it seems impossible not to regard its overthrow as near and imminent. Vainly will the English government endeavour to avert this double ruin of the Protestant church and aristocracy of Ireland; whatever it may be, whether Whig or Tory, it will not have the power; it will succeed neither by prudent reforms nor by blind resistance, neither by wisdom nor by force.
England, no doubt, is far superior in strength to Ireland, and the latter would be mad to enter into a struggle of rivalry with the former. She would be insane, not merely if she wished to dictate laws to England, but even if she attempted to escape from her sovereignty: woe be to her, if ever she enters upon such a strife! But there is a great difference between the feeble engaging in an attack and making a defence. The weak, when oppressed, find a great auxiliary force in the sanctity of the cause, whilst the powerful oppressor is seriously weakened by the injustice which he practises, and of which he himself is conscious. Now England may believe it useful to her own interests to impose upon Ireland institutions pernicious to the latter; but she cannot think such a proceeding just, and the very doubt of her right is a source of weakness. On the contrary, when Ireland resists the violence offered her, she has the sense of the wrong committed towards her, and is sustained by the feeling. Thus, it seems, that a long system of injustice tends to equalise the power of the oppressor and the oppressed, and that the courage of the latter increases as the energy of the tyrant is diminished.
England would rise as one man against Ireland attempting to break the political chain by which both countries are united. But when Ireland limits herself to resisting the persecutions and rigours of a political selfishness, when she causes to be heard the mournful accents of the starving poor, and the groans of the suffering oppressed, England is divided, and the great people, which would be all powerful to subdue a rebellious subject, wants strength to crush a victim. This is the secret of English weakness when opposed to poor Ireland, supported by her unmerited misfortunes. Here is the explanation of the past and the revelation of the future. This is the reason why, even at the time of her greatest relative inferiority, Ireland has always been a source of embarrassment and a menace to England.
And the time is approaching, if it has not already come, when Ireland will not be strong in her rights alone. Her population, which increases more rapidly than that of England, increases the power of the weaker, and diminishes the power of the stronger. Ireland is no longer the petty nation of eight or nine hundred thousand inhabitants, beaten down by the mere nod of Henry VIII. or Elizabeth; she at present contains eight millions of inhabitants, full half of what England, Scotland, and Wales, contain together: and the time is not far distant, when England, taken by herself, will not be numerically stronger than Ireland. Then, though the first will, doubtless, be infinitely more powerful than the second, we must not forget what a superiority of forces is requisite to exercise an oppression, which weakens the one, and lessens the inferiority of the other.
Besides, let us take care not to look upon England and Ireland as two countries standing alone in the world, and everything to each other. It is very true, that England is at present everything to Ireland, which as yet has only an existence relative to England; but the same does not hold good for England, who has the care of maintaining the power which she has established in both hemispheres. Thus, Ireland pursuing only one political object, the reform of her institutions, and in contact with only one people, that which opposes this reform;—Ireland, I say, unites all her forces against a single adversary, and brings to the combat, without diversion, truce, or relaxation, all her physical strength and moral power; whilst England, in her political relations, engaged with a thousand different interests, is forced to divide her strength. The resistance which Ireland opposes to England is constant, and must increase; the force which the latter brings to bear against the former is variable, and subject to very large reductions in extraordinary times.
We must take these mutual relations of England and Ireland into our consideration to understand how a feeble nation has been enabled to contend successfully against a powerful people, and how it may reckon on similar success for the future. Strong in its just cause, constant progress, continuous efforts directed to a single object, and all the accidental embarrassments which arise to trammel its adversary, Ireland advances steadily on her road; sometimes she obtains from England an act of half justice, sometimes a valuable concession; one day a boon is granted to her on calculation, which had been refused to her as a right; concessions are alternately made to the pity inspired by her misfortunes, and the alarm produced by her agitations; and thus England is led, half reluctantly and half voluntarily, to overthrow in Ireland the edifice she would wish to maintain. Should the future seem doubtful, let us consult the past.
England was not less anxious fifty years ago than she is now, to preserve in their integrity her aristocratic and religious institutions in Ireland; and at that epoch the relative weakness of Ireland was far greater than in our days. Still it is from this time that the greatest advantages obtained by England over Ireland are dated. From 1775 to 1793, that is to say, nearly twenty years, it would seem as if Ireland held England in check; it would seem as if the latter, which had hitherto refused to cede anything to Ireland, had taken the part of granting everything;—and why? Because England was then in all the embarrassments of her power; braved in North America, menaced in India, at war with France and Spain: hence the Irish emancipations of 1778 and 1782; England gave Ireland her liberties at the same time that the American colonies took theirs. On the day that revolutionary France, declaring war against Europe, made England comprehend the necessity of being at peace within herself, she gave new liberties to Ireland: hence the emancipation of 1796.
Finally, when England conceded parliamentary emancipation in 1829, she candidly confessed that she granted it, not because it was just, but because it was necessary. And what was this necessity? To prevent the general insurrection of Ireland, which seemed imminent.
The situation of England is doubtless deplorable, having neither the power to be equitable to Ireland, nor the strength to refuse her justice; merciless in the period of her power, and generous only in the days of her weakness; rejecting one day as impious and sacrilegious the reforms which she executes the next as necessary. She thus sees destroyed peacemeal, year after year, by concession after concession, and necessity after necessity, all the institutions she is anxious to preserve in Ireland. Every day must render this work of destruction more rapid and more irresistible. The nation to which concessions are made, not because they are just, but because they are necessary, learns an inevitable lesson. Warned that she has nothing to expect from the equity of her rulers, Ireland labours only to show them her strength; hence when O’Connell wants anything, he preaches agitation, and rouses seven millions of people as a Laputan flapper, proper to fix the attention of England.
And yet this sad system of concessions, wrested from fear or weakness, or sometimes from pity, seems the only one which under present circumstances England can pursue towards Ireland.
We have elsewhere seen for what reasons it would be impossible for England to execute peaceably and freely the reforms which Ireland requires. She cannot effect these reforms, because if one part of her population wished to render justice to Ireland, there is another part whose political and religious passions would require that the oppression of Ireland should be continued. Now these passions and prejudices, which would be roused against a logical and spontaneous reform, would yield to a reform imposed by necessity, and bow to superior force. England pardons her government for being weak, and even powerless, before the exigencies of Ireland; she would not pardon her government for immolating, merely at the wish of the country, the institutions entrusted to its care; there are reforms which the Whigs would not be allowed to effect as just and national, which England would allow to be accomplished by the Tories as deplorable but necessary.
Thus, the English institutions established in Ireland are crumbling to ruin, in spite of the efforts England makes for their preservation. These institutions must fall, and we may affirm that they will not be overthrown in Ireland, without the same institutions existing in England receiving a severe shock from their crash.
England would commit a great error if she believed that this mixed system of resistance and successive concessions will save her from the perils to which, perhaps not without reason, she believes that she will be exposed, if she openly and directly reformed the institutions of Ireland. She would strangely impose on herself if, because she insists on the maintenance of her institutions in Ireland, she believes that she will escape the irresistible contagion which is overthrowing them. A very little reflection should be sufficient to convince her that her own church and her own aristocracy will be more shaken by the slow and disputed overthrow of the Irish church and aristocracy, than by their immediate and complete reform.
Of what value is the fiction which supposes these institutions stable in Ireland, if England incessantly hears the blows directed against them, and the cries of alarm raised by their partisans? It is in vain that England, satisfied with her church and aristocracy, denies that Ireland ought to be similarly satisfied, if the miseries of the country murmur a perpetual accusation against the church and aristocracy, which finds an echo in England.
Fears are entertained for the English church, if that of Ireland should be overthrown; the latter, consequently, is preserved. But what is the consequence? Simply that England hears every day that a church exists in Ireland, detested by the people; a church gorged with gold, abuses, and vices, receiving enormous revenues for the benefit of a few Protestants, whilst the mass of the people, profoundly wretched, has no provision for public worship. England hears these discourses repeated in a thousand forms. One day it is the sinecures of the Irish church that are denounced; another, the enormous incomes of the bishops: sometimes a revolt of the people against the exactions of the clergy is announced; sometimes a dissertation is published, proving, without much difficulty, the legitimacy of the rebellion. When Ireland is insurgent, how will the revolt be appeased? All England asks the question of itself. Do the Whigs propose reform as a remedy? It must be discussed. Do the Tories propose coercive measures? They must be discussed likewise. Vainly is the question raised by these vicious institutions eluded; it returns on all sides in spite of every effort, and perseveres in troubling England in her repose: if violent means are adopted to quell the insurrection, the cries of sorrow from the scaffold in Ireland resound through England, and are more tormenting than conscientious scruples in favour of the church and the aristocracy.
It would be surprising if English imaginations, once directed to such a subject, stopped at Ireland. Many who do not see at the first glance the difference between the religious state of England and Ireland, are disposed to believe that the monstrous abuses in the church of the latter are not without a parallel in the church of the former. Is not the scandal of ecclesiastical sinecures the same in Ireland as in England? Do not the higher clergy possess inordinate wealth there also? Is not the 20,000l. a year possessed by the Archbishop of Armagh, less than the 30,000l. enjoyed by the Archbishop of Canterbury? Is it not as absurd in England as it is in Ireland, that edifices for the Anglican worship should be built and supported at the expense of Dissenters? Is it not equally bad in England and Ireland, that the church should have large landed estates fettered to sterility in its hands? Is it not a bad system, that ministers of religion should perform the functions of justices of peace in both countries, and throw into prison the person to whom they are appointed as spiritual guides and directors?
All these questions are now debated in England.—And how are they raised? By the state of Ireland, by the eternal complaints which that country raises, and her constant agitation to reject a religious system imposed by force, and maintained by violence. How many clamours, always followed by the same echoes, how many similar commotions, always producing the same reaction, will be necessary to shake the church in England, which is tottering in Ireland? We cannot tell; but may we not assert, that no institution is so firm as to resist such causes of ruin? And all these perils, which the political system pursued towards Ireland accumulates against the church, are not less menacing to the English aristocracy.
When it is incessantly repeated in England, that there exists a class of persons in Ireland called the landlords, or the rich, against which the hatred and the curses of the people are incessantly directed;—that these rich landlords use their wealth and power only to crush and plunder the feeble;—that, odious to the people, but friends to the church, they have made with that institution a selfish bargain, of which the ruin of the people is the object;—when England learns that the great Irish lords, who have no sympathy for the sufferings of the poor man, derive from his sweat and toil the means of their luxury and ostentation;—when every day she hears that men invested with the public authority arbitrarily imprison the citizens, administer the laws without comprehending them;—that, from want of moral authority, they know of no influence but that of the jailer or the hangman; and that from their ignorance, cupidity, imprudence, and selfishness, they have rendered themselves so odious to the nation, as to be reduced to the necessity of either flying a country that abhors them, or living there in constant fear when they do not fall victims to hatred or vengeance; when, I say, such facts, which the press invariably registers, and still further exaggerates, constantly reach the ears of the English people, is it not to be supposed that they, struck by the accusations against the aristocracy of Ireland, will be naturally led to inquire whether that of England is not subject to similar reproaches?
The English aristocracy is, doubtless, different from that of Ireland. But however good we may suppose it to be, it still contains within itself enough of vices, it is subject to enough of errors, it contains enough of selfishness, for Irish grievances to present some analogy with grievances in England; for whoever, in the latter country, suffers from an excess, a fault, or a weakness of the aristocracy, is induced to apply to its condition what is truly urged against the aristocracy of Ireland, and to be tempted to hate that institution at home as much as the other is odious in the neighbouring country? England, which, in order to continue Anglican and aristocratic, forces Ireland to remain so likewise, does not consider what danger there is in this solemn voice of a people, which incessantly exclaims, that the Anglican church is the most odious of all religions systems, and aristocracy the worst of all governments?
Thus, not only will England fail to maintain the Anglican church and aristocracy in Ireland, but the blows which she aims at that country will rebound against herself and shake her own institutions: and this influence of Ireland, which re-acts on England, and sends back hatred in return for bad laws, does not merely act in a moral and indirect way. Ireland, well aware that England would not violently impose upon her the rule of the aristocracy and the Anglican church, if such rule were not her own, labours to attack the institutions of England, and the important share she has in the parliamentary representation of Great Britain supplies her with the means.
The influence of the Irish members is, and necessarily must be, democratic; and it is natural that they should embrace every opportunity which is offered to them of assailing, by their votes, not only the aristocratic institutions of Ireland, but those of England: not that they are very eager for the ruin of the English aristocracy, but because they know that if it were overthrown, or even weakened, the factitious aristocracy of Ireland would fall to pieces of itself. Now this radical character of the Irish representatives exercises, and is calculated to exercise in future, the most extraordinary influence on the destinies of England.
We have already said, that England, if left to herself, would be disposed to preserve her own institutions, if not intact, at least nearly such as they are; and it is certain that, in the present parliament, the English members, if alone, would give the majority to the Conservative party. Whence does it happen, then, that this party is not in possession of the government? Because, in the nearly balanced state of English parties, the Irish representatives, by joining the Whigs, give the majority to their side. Thus England, which really holds Ireland under her yoke, is still forced, by the influence of that country, to renounce the government she prefers, and to submit to a party by which, on the whole, she is not represented.
Friendly as she is to repose, Conservative England would not remain motionless, if she could direct her actions according to her own pleasure. The nature of her government, her habits of liberty, the spirit of discussion which has passed from her religion into her habits, the varied interests she contains, which, too timid to yield very much, are too enlightened to refuse yielding at all,—everything would incline her to a slow, peaceful, and progressive reform of her institutions.
But whilst she wishes to advance mildly and prudently in the path of reform, she is forced to advance with rapid strides. Whence comes this violence? From the contingent contributed to her representation by a nation to which in other respects she dictates the laws. It is now very generally acknowledged, that the famous reform bill of 1832 would not have been carried by the representatives of England alone, and that its success is mainly attributable to the Irish members. And it seems that every day, the democratic influence of Ireland in the British parliament is on the increase. At the late election of 1837, England, which is in a reaction against reform, elected a greater number of Conservatives than there were in the preceding parliament, and Ireland more Radicals.
Everything seems to show, that for a long time the parliamentary representation of the two countries will follow these opposite tendencies, because the question will every day be more urgent between the grave interest which England has, not to hasten the democratic movement, and the imperious necessity which Ireland feels to precipitate it.
May not a formidable collision arise between the passions constant in their attack, and the interests determined on resistance?
Will not the singular desire that England feels to stop short in the road on which she is hurried onward by Ireland, produce in the long-run some extreme resolution in the English people? It is already evident, that England feels a secret reluctance to be dragged in the train of Ireland. The idea that she is subject to such influence annoys her; she feels her pride wounded, because an obstacle to her natural march arises from a people she is accustomed to despise. Besides, from the repetition of attacks, the conservative interests of England have taken alarm. Reforms always succeeding to reforms, and concessions to concessions, a time arrives when the aristocracy, right or wrong, deems that it should yield no further, and that henceforth it is reduced to the alternative of resisting, or ceasing to exist.
Might it not then, happen, that the party which by its nature is most attached to peace, may some day see that there is no safety for it but in war, and convinced that if it does not revolt, it will be killed by inches, it should engage its enemy by open force at the risk of a sudden and violent death?
It is not merely a collision between England and Ireland that is rendered possible by this conflict of interests and passions, but also an engagement between the English parties themselves, one of which is irritated by the support that Ireland gives to the other. Recourse to arms is not a proceeding familiar to political parties in England; it may be generally said, that all disputes in that country are solved constitutionally. Still, who can give an assurance that England will never swerve from legal paths?
Those who saw England in 1832 will, perhaps, hesitate in answering this question. At that time the resistance of the Tory party engendered such ardent and unanimous passions in favour of reform, that England might have been supposed on the eve of a revolution. Insurrection was openly mentioned, plans for a campaign were prepared, leaders were chosen; it is even said that generals were nominated for the national army. The aristocracy having yielded, the river has returned to its bed, but what would the consequence have been, were the national torrent resisted?
Now, would it not be possible that the English nation, having made a movement to obtain reform, should commence a new agitation to arrest its course? Already, in 1835, at the period when the re-action in England against the movement of 1835 began to make itself felt, the conservative party, impatient of the reforms announced by the Whigs, who still retained possession of power, raised the cry of war. Nothing less seemed designed than an appeal to the Cavaliers against the Roundheads. This challenge had then no result; but may not violence some day follow from such a menace?
It is thus that the impetuous wind from Ireland, breathing democracy over England, brings upon her the chances of civil war. It is thus that the attempt to support in Ireland a system of government which the country rejects, produces a sort of oppression to England herself. It is thus that England, whilst she forcibly imposes her institutions on Ireland, is menaced with their loss at home. A strange and grave situation, in whichever way it is viewed. To Ireland the more terrible, to England the more weighty in responsibility; more simple though more laborious for Ireland, because, having only one interest and one duty, she need not hesitate on the road she follows, though dragged along bleeding from wounds and tortures; more complicated for England, which, loaded with a thousand burthens, can neither carry nor throw off the weight of Ireland,—which, sure to conquer whenever she combats Ireland, gains only barren victories, and ruins herself whilst she ruins the unhappy country; and, in the midst of her rigours to the unhappy land, always dubious of her own cause. Stimulated by selfishness, and in turn restrained by conscience, she vainly tries to be always wise and always just. A situation vast and covered with darkness, in which the mind labours, wearies, wanders; where all that at present seems necessary to be undertaken, is found impossible; and for which we can discover in the future only sad and incomplete solutions, until the period, far or less distant from us, when the democratic principle, which is working its way through the world, and which reaches England not only through the passions of Ireland, but also the general movement of the whole human race, shall have overthrown aristocracy in England, and, by introducing into that country the only institutions which Ireland can endure, rendered possible an accordance between two people condemned to a common life, and which at present are no more able to unite than they are to separate.
[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.]
[1.][Note text has been omitted from the English translation. Please see the French version of the book for the content of this note.]
[1.][Note text has been omitted from the English translation. Please see the French version of the book for the content of this note.]
[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.]