Front Page Titles (by Subject) 306.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 5 OCT., 1846, P. 4 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III
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306.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 5 OCT., 1846, P. 4 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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THE CONDITION OF IRELAND 
The disastrous failure of the potato crop, which brought on the terrible Irish famine, called attention anew to the agricultural and general economic problems in Ireland, and brought forward various proposals to improve conditions. In a series of forty-three leading articles in the Morning Chronicle, running until 7 Jan., 1847, of which this is the first, Mill develops the views that (using these articles) he presents in his Principles of Political Economy. In his Autobiography, saying that he began the Principles in the autumn of 1845 and had the work ready for the press before the end of 1847, he comments: “In this period of little more than two years there was an interval of six months during which the work was laid aside, while I was writing articles in the Morning Chronicle (which unexpectedly entered warmly into my purpose) urging the formation of peasant properties on the waste lands of Ireland. This was during the period of the famine, the winter of 1846/47, when the stern necessities of the time seemed to afford a chance of gaining attention for what appeared to me the only mode of combining relief to immediate destitution with permanent improvement of the social and economical condition of the Irish people. But the idea was new and strange; there was no English precedent for such a proceeding: and the profound ignorance of English politicians and the English public concerning all social phenomena not generally met with in England (however common elsewhere) made my endeavours an entire failure. Instead of a great operation on the waste lands, and the conversion of cottiers into proprietors, Parliament passed a Poor Law for maintaining them as paupers: and if the nation has not since found itself in inextricable difficulties from the joint operation of the old evils and the quack remedy, it is indebted for its deliverance to that most unexpected and surprising fact, the depopulation of Ireland, commenced by famine, and continued by emigration.” (CW, Vol. I, p. 243; see also Mill’s letter to Harriet Taylor, ca. 30 Mar., 1849; LL, CW, Vol. XIV, p. 21.) Given the labour that must have gone into this series, and noting that he wrote six further leaders on Ireland in the Morning Chronicle, the last appearing on 7 Apr., 1847, one may well understand Mill’s saying there was a six-months’ interval, when in fact the series lasted for three months. He was pleased with the initial reception of his ideas, writing to Bain (probably in mid-November, 1846) to say that the articles “have excited a good deal of notice, and have quite snatched the initiative out of the Times.” “It is a capital thing to have the power of writing leaders in the Chronicle whenever I like, which I can always do. The paper has tried for years to get me to write to it, but it has not suited me to do it before, except once in six months or so.” In another letter to Bain, on 28 Dec., he reports that he may “slacken” his writing on the subject, “having in a great measure, as far as may be judged by appearances, carried my point, viz., to have the waste lands reclaimed and parcelled out in small properties among the best of the peasantry” (EL, CW, Vol. XIII, p. 705). The unheaded leader is described in his bibliography as “A leading article on Irish affairs in the Morning Chronicle of 5th October 1846”
(MacMinn, p. 60).
the present condition of ireland, in the midst of its danger and calamity, has that element of consolation which proverbially accompanies an intolerable excess of evil. It has brought things to a crisis. It has converted a chronic into an acute disease, which will either kill or be cured. It has made that singular state of society, which in Ireland is called law, property, and social order, simply a thing which cannot any longer hold together. The sluggish, well-meaning mind of the English nation, so willing to do its duty, so slow to discover that it has any duty to do, is now perforce rousing to ask itself the question, after five centuries of English domination over Ireland, how many millions it is inclined to pay, not in order to save the social system which has grown up under its fostering care, but to help that precious child of its parental nurture to die easy? Any further prolongation of existence for that system no one now seems to predict, and hardly any one any longer ventures to insinuate that it deserves.
This is something gained. The state of Ireland—not the present state merely, but the habitual state—is hitherto the most unqualified instance of signal failure which the practical genius of the English people has exhibited. We have had the Irish all to ourselves, for five hundred years. No one has shared with us the privilege of governing them, nor the responsibilities consequent on that privilege. No one has exercised the smallest authority over them, save by our permission. They have been as completely delivered into our hands as children into those of their parents and instructors. No one has ever had the power to thwart our wise and benevolent purposes; and now, at the expiration of nearly one-third of the time which has elapsed since the Christian era, the country contains eight millions, on their own showing, of persecuted innocents, whom it is the sole occupation of every English mind to injure and disparage; on ours (if some of our loudest spokesmen can be taken as our representatives), of lazy, lawless savages, whose want of industry and energy keeps them ever on the verge of starvation, whose want of respect for life and property makes it unsafe for civilized beings to dwell among them. England unanimously repudiates the first theory: but is the other much less disgraceful to us? An independent nation is, in all essentials, what it has made itself by its own efforts; but a nation conquered and held in subjection ever since it had a history, is what its conquerors have made it, or have caused it to become. Yet this reflection does not seem to inspire Englishmen generally with any feeling of shame. The evils of Ireland sit as lightly on the English conscience as if England had exhausted every effort in struggling against them—as if England had done all which the most enlightened and disinterested benevolence could suggest for governing the Irish well, and for civilising and improving them. What has ever yet been done, or seriously attempted, for either purpose, except latterly, by taking off some of the loads we ourselves had laid on, history will be at a loss to discover.
Is this want of will on England’s part, or want of capacity? Foreigners, with an excusable injustice, pronounce that it is want of will. It is not, however, by England’s voluntary choice that Ireland is what she is. England would far rather that she were otherwise. England wishes nothing but good to Ireland, and has shown, by large gifts of money from time to time1 —the most irrefragable evidence of sincerity in this commercial age—how gladly she would make sacrifices to promote Irish well-being, provided that it could be done without deviating one-tenth of an inch from some extremely beaten track; without introducing a single principle not already familiar even to triteness in English practice; without alarming the most insignificant English vested interest that chanced to be called by the same name as some Irish nuisance. Unfortunately, no good could be done in Ireland under these conditions. Accordingly, the work is still to be begun; and an emergency, pressing so instantly for action as to leave scarcely any time for deliberation, finds the public, to all appearance, unfurnished with any opinions on the nature of the remedy which the condition of Ireland requires.
Amidst the miserable paucity of suggestions, good, indifferent, or even bad, which the present Irish crisis has called forth, it is a fact that one only has hitherto been urged with any vigour, or re-echoed widely by the organs through which opinions find their way to the public; and that one is—what? A poor-law, with extensive out-door relief to the able-bodied!2 This, then, is what the progress of reason and experience has brought us to: this is the sum of what our wisdom can devise to make an indolent people industrious, to gift an improvident people with prudence and forethought. That which has pauperised nearly the whole agricultural population of England is the expedient recommended for raising to comfort and independence the peasantry of Ireland! Most things which have been done or proposed in our time, as benefits to that unfortunate country, were merely frivolous: they diverted attention from the real evils, and were so far injurious; but the mischief stopped there. They left things, at all events, no worse than they found them. But this, the only scheme of which we now hear much—which seems to be the beginning and the ending of what the Times, for example, with all its energetic protests against the state of social relations in Ireland, can find to propose for their amendment3 —this we verily believe to be the one thing that the Legislature could do by which the economical evils of Ireland would be made worse than they already are. It is the one thing which would set the seal to Irish misery, the thing which would take away even the possibility of improvement. The Legislature which could deliberately adopt it must be nothing less than insane; and the writers who advocate it are flinging away a great power and a golden opportunity, for the sake of a mischievous chimera.
[1 ]By provisions in, e.g., 3 George IV, cc. 34, 84, 112 (1822); 1 & 2 William IV, c. 33 (1831); and 2 & 3 Victoria, cc. 1, 3, 50 (1839), as well as the measures of 1846, mentioned throughout the series.
[2 ]“A Bill for the Better Relief of the Destitute Poor of Ireland,” 9 Victoria (25 Mar., 1846), PP, 1846, III, 129-32, was advocated by Poulett Scrope, who moved its second reading on 1 Apr. (PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 85, cols. 383-96); although it was not enacted (ibid., col. 412), Scrope continued to promote his scheme with considerable public support, especially from The Times.
[3 ]See the leading article on the Irish Poor Law, The Times, 19 Aug., p. 4. For other comments by The Times on Irish “social relations,” see leaders on 21 Sept., p. 4, 22 Sept., pp. 4-5, 24 Sept., p. 4, and 2 Oct., p. 4.