Front Page Titles (by Subject) Subsection II.: What Reforms the Whigs can make in the civil privileges of the Irish Aristocracy. - Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, vol. 2
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Subsection II.: What Reforms the Whigs can make in the civil privileges of the Irish Aristocracy. - 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 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.
[1.][Note text has been omitted from the English translation. Please see the French version of the book for the content of this note.]