Front Page Titles (by Subject) 308.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 7 OCT., 1846, P. 4 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III
Return to Title Page for The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
308.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 7 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The online edition of the Collected Works is published under licence from the copyright holder, The University of Toronto Press. ©2006 The University of Toronto Press. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced in any form or medium without the permission of The University of Toronto Press.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
THE CONDITION OF IRELAND 
For the context of this argument against The Times’ advocacy of an expanded Irish Poor Law, which would allow outdoor relief in exchange for labour on public works, see No. 306. The unheaded leader is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A second leading article on Irish affairs in the Morning Chronicle of 7th October 1846”
(MacMinn, p. 60).
the alpha and omega of the schemes for the relief of Ireland—the quintessence of all the propositions we hear, is, give, give, give. The points on which there is diversity are only, who is to give, and whom it is to be given to. While some people are for giving themselves, some are only for making others give, and some would have no objection to make the crisis an opportunity for receiving. The cry of some persons is, let England give; and give to the peasantry, to those who are really in want. There is charity in this proposal, if not wisdom, when it comes from this side of the Irish Channel; when from the other side, it is something else; it is the conduct of him who begs for charity, which, if rarely meritorious or dignified, is excusable when there is nothing else to be done. But the Irish landlords next present themselves, and exclaim, give to us. Lend to us below the market rate of interest, that we may pay off our mortgages; we shall then have a large income for our own use, with part of which we will employ the poor. Or, lend us a round sum on the mortgage of our estates, which are already so deeply mortgaged that we cannot raise an additional farthing from any other source; and instead of paying off our mortgages we will do better—we will employ the loan in cultivating our lands and improving our estates for ourselves. This charming scheme for giving to the poor by means of giving to the landlords, does not seem to have made many converts among those to whom the part assigned in it is that of givers. It has rather provoked them to give the thing a contrary turn, and to demand whether, instead of receiving, the Irish landlords are not the very persons who should be required to give. And justly too. If the working bees are short of winter provision, they have a claim on their own drones before they can have any on the bees of another hive. The whole Irish population, therefore, are to be quartered on the landlords, and as a machinery for the purpose, the Times is ready with its Poor-law, and its lavish system of out-door relief.1
But the objection common to all these schemes is, that they consist of giving, and nothing more. That objection is fatal. Did ever any one hear, was ever any one so completely out of his senses as to imagine, that the whole social and economical state of a country could be made to rest upon giving? Giving, when the whole labouring population are the parties concerned, is a thing to be done once, and then largely and generously, to the full measure of the need. But it is not a thing to be done at all, save when the object to be compassed, or at least greatly promoted, is that of so altering the condition of the receivers, that they shall not need to look to giving as a permanent resource. If this could be accomplished for Ireland—and that it could we are fully prepared to show—we will not venture to say what sum of money we would not willingly give, and call on others to give, for so noble a purpose. Or if the habitual condition of the Irish people were satisfactory, and the present distress a sharp but passing calamity, as little connected with the general course of events as the cholera—a torrent which they only required to be helped through, to be landed again in prosperity on the other side—then too we could join our voices with those who say, give freely, and ask no questions about the future. But as things are, we protest with all our force against giving one additional farthing on plans which hold out no better promise than that, after a larger or smaller sum of money is spent and gone, the Irish will be exactly as they were before. Give as much as you will, but let it be for the permanent improvement of the condition of the people. We will not hear of any giving merely to feed the disease, not to cure it.
But the Times’ plan of a Poor-law would do much more than feed the disease—it would render it surely and rapidly mortal. There is already a Poor-law, by which all who choose to accept its conditions are guaranteed against actual famine. The demands of the Times are, to break down all the salutary barriers which the law erects to prevent the people from making what ought to be an extreme resource an habitual one: to erect a system by which in fact, and indeed in intention, the peasantry of Ireland would depend on a compulsory assessment for their daily bread. Assume that the thing is possible—assume that it would not, as in a short time it certainly would, absorb the whole rental of the country, and reduce all other classes to the condition of labourers, while it reduced the labourers to the condition of paupers; suppose that it would not do this, but something short of this, what would be its effect on the minds and habits of the labourers themselves? The senseless crusade against the English Poor-law, to which the Times has unhappily committed itself2 —which is perpetually crossing and marring the better inspirations of its writers, and in which its self-importance is now too much involved to allow a hope of its receding from its false position—this pet fanaticism of its own ought not, however, to be so mere a fanaticism as to make it incapable of seeing conclusions, the premises of which are daily set forth, with studied exaggeration, in its own columns. It ought not to be so much the slave of its fixed-idea as to be unable to perceive, that even if the strict principles of the English Poor-law were not necessary for England, they would still be the only Poor-law principles adapted to Ireland. Are the Irish, on the showing of the Times and its Commissioner,3 a people who can be trusted with an unlimited license to draw upon the national alms? It has been the custom of the Times and its fellow crusaders (auxiliaries with whom it must itself be often rather ashamed to keep company) to assert that the English peasantry were calumniated by the authors of the Poor-law; that it is not true that the industry and self-reliance of the English labourer broke down under the pauperising system, which destroyed all the natural motives to those virtues; that in spite of the tendency which prejudice itself cannot pretend not to see in a system which exempts the labourer from taking any care of himself, by promising to take care for him, the virtue of independence is still so deeply rooted in the character of the English peasant, that he has borne, and can bear, a moral regimen to all appearance the most destructive of any such feeling or quality. A bitter mockery is this false praise of the spiritless, depressed being which the Times itself delights in representing the English peasant to be. But the Irish peasant: what of him? Is he a similar paragon of industry, providence, self-reliance, and the other virtues of that mythological creation, “a stout peasantry?”4 Listen to Mr. Foster—listen to the “Times Commissioner,” and he will tell you that the Irish peasant, while he has his sufficient meal of bad, watery potatoes, will not stir two steps from the door of his turf hut to gain either comfort or luxury at the cost of half an hour’s exertion; that when a boat is found for him by his own parish priest, and a thousand herrings may be caught in one day, neither the prize can tempt nor the priest persuade him to make use of the opportunity; or he perhaps goes once, and brings home a week’s subsistence; but, declaring it too much trouble ever to go again, loiters at home and asks a passing traveller for money.5 Such are said to be the people to whom the Times wishes the Legislature to declare, that they need not take any trouble to feed themselves, for it will make the landlords feed them. Listen next to the Times itself.6 It has several times made the remark, that even the small measure of alms and employment held out to the Irish by the parliamentary grants of last year, has had such an unfortunate effect on them, that, bad as their condition was, those who were accustomed to come to England for harvest work, and whom that fact itself proved to be the most hardworking and the most enterprising of the peasantry, have not come this summer at all, or have come in greatly diminished numbers, preferring the mere immunity from starvation, held out by the Government, to the large gains (for persons in their circumstances) which it is known they were accustomed to carry back to Ireland on their return. Imagine this people with a fund to draw upon, in their opinion unlimited, and, so far as law can make it, really so—a people who, if what the Times says of them is merited, not only will do nothing for themselves which they can possibly get done for them by others, but will go without everything, except mere food, if they must depend on their own exertions for procuring it.
We know it will be answered that relief is not to be given in alms, but in exchange for work, and that it is not intended to pay the idleness of the people, but their industry. As if experience had not done justice to all such projects. As if England had forgotten the once familiar scenes of pauper labour on the roads and in the gravel-pits. As if the very ideas of industry and compulsory payment did not (in the language of a French writer) shriek at finding themselves together.7 An ordinary labourer knows that unless he work neither shall he eat; that he must give for his day’s wages the ordinary day’s work of the country, or otherwise he will not be employed. A parish-paid labourer knows that his wages are to be paid to him at any rate, and that his employers may get from him afterwards such day’s work as they can. A people who we are told will not do the easiest day’s work for their own undivided benefit, are yet expected to do for the parish or the state any work worth paying for. Unless the Irish have been, not merely a little wronged, but foully calumniated by Mr. Foster—unless they are the exact contrary of what he paints them—the work done for the parish would be nominal work, and of other work nothing would be done at all. While men are what they are, they can be induced to habitual labour by only two motives—reward and punishment. The reward of the Irish, and even of the English peasant, is a sufficiently wretched one—a bare subsistence. But if even that is annihilated as a reward by being severed from the industry which is to earn it, there is no other incentive remaining but punishment; the labour must be compulsory, the labourer must be a slave. Those whom you are forced to feed must be forced to work; and there is not, there never has been, any permanent means by which human beings can be forced to labour all their lives for other people, but the lash. Such is the alternative to which the Times, and the counsels of the Times, would reduce the people whom it patronises.
Because the Irish are indolent, unenterprising, careless of the future, doing nothing for themselves, and demanding everything from other people; because, being freemen, they want the characteristic virtues of freemen, it is proposed to create a fit soil for the growth of those virtues by placing them in the position of slaves!
[1 ]See The Times, 19 Aug., p. 4. The Irish Poor Law, 1 & 2 Victoria, c. 56 (1838), provided only indoor relief.
[2 ]See, e.g., the leaders on p. 4 of The Times on 20, 24, 25, 28 Aug., and 1 Sept., 1846.
[3 ]Thomas Campbell Foster (1813-82), legal writer and barrister, had been dispatched by The Times in 1845 as its “Irish Commissioner” to report regularly on the agricultural situation in Ireland; his reports had appeared in collected form as Letters on the Condition of the People of Ireland (London: Chapman and Hall, 1845).
[4 ]Mill is perhaps thinking of the “bold peasantry, their country’s pride,” that “once destroyed, can never be supplied,” of Oliver Goldsmith’s The Deserted Village (London: Griffin, 1770), p. 4 (ll. 55-6).
[5 ]See Foster, “The Condition of the People in the Highlands of Scotland,” The Times, 1 Oct., 1846, p. 5, where he compares, to the advantage of neither, the Scots and the Irish.
[6 ]Leading articles, 19 Aug., p. 4, and 22 Sept., pp. 4-5.
[7 ]A variant of this expression is used in “Cavaignac’s Defence,” App. A, p. 1248.