Front Page Titles (by Subject) 309.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 10 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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309.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 10 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 
For the context, see No. 306. With the definition of cottier tenancy Mill gives here, compare his account in Principles of Political Economy, Bk. II, Chap. ix (CW, Vol. II, p. 312). This unheaded leader is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A third leading article on Irish affairs in the Morning Chronicle of 10th October 1846”
(MacMinn, p. 60).
the grand economical evil of ireland is the cottier-tenant system. We were on the point of calling it the grand moral evil also. Neither the economical nor the moral evils admit of any considerable alleviation while that baneful system continues.
This truth is the foundation of the philosophy of Irish wretchedness and Irish improvement. It is the one thing to be known, remembered, and perpetually thought of by all who concern themselves about that country. It is the conclusion which almost every one who sincerely and seriously applies his mind to the matter ends by aiming at. There is hardly any road whereby a conscientious thinker can approach the subject of Irish distress which does not lead directly to it.
But it is not always clearly seen in what the radical mischief of this tenure, as it exists in Ireland, consists. It is often confounded with the evil of small holdings. Holdings certainly may, under any system, be too small. But there may be small holdings without a cottier system; and there may be a cottier system without small holdings.
A cottier system may be defined, that in which the produce of the land is divided between two sharers—a landlord on one side, and labourers on the other; the competition of the labourers being the regulating principle of the division. To see this system in the fulness of its pernicious fruits, two other circumstances must be supposed, both of which pre-eminently exist in Ireland:—a country over-peopled, at least in proportion to the efficiency of its industry, and no considerable outlet for labour, otherwise than in agriculture.
In all countries in which the labouring population have no property, their condition depends upon the intensity of the competition for employment. In England, and most civilized countries, the pressure of this competition is upon capital; in Ireland, under the cottier system, it is upon land. In England, overpopulation produces its effect by lowering wages; in Ireland, by raising rent.
Now, there is a truth so universally borne out by experience, as almost to partake of the character of a law of nature; and it is this. Whenever a population, excessive in proportion to the productive power of its industry, depends for subsistence wholly upon the occupancy of land, their competition drives them to offer for the land a rent merely nominal, a rent greater than the utmost which, even on the most favourable supposition, they can possibly pay. A farmer who has capital, who brings something to the farm, and risks something upon it, will not bind himself to a higher rent than he thinks he can pay without, at all events, encroaching on his capital. A labourer who bids for land, not for the sake of profit, but for subsistence, and with whom not to have land is to be without the means of living, will offer anything rather than be outbid by his neighbour. In such a case, if there is any limit to the nominal amount of rent, it is to be found, not in the calculations of the tenant, but in the moderation of the landlord, his justice, humanity, or enlightened perception of self-interest.
This is well understood in the East. In India, as in Ireland, there is a superabundant population depending wholly on land. In India, as in Ireland, the people will promise to pay anything for the land rather than not obtain it. The owner of the land therefore, who in India is generally the Government, has long since discovered that it will not do to leave the matter to competition; that itself, as landlord, must not ask the tenant what he will pay, but must determine for him what he can pay, and resolutely abstain from asking more; that if it has inadvertently asked too much, it must not hold the tenant to his contract, but at once cancel it, and grant another; that this is its interest, even in the narrowest and most selfish acceptation; that in the long run (and not a very long run either) it gets more rent by this mode of proceeding than by any other. Not the English Government in India only, but all tolerably-administered Native governments, have been taught this wisdom by experience.
The Irish landlords have not generally had this wisdom. Improvident and reckless themselves, needy and indebted, and therefore, by a sort of necessity, rapacious, they have never known how to part with even the shadow of a present gain for the sake of a more certain gain in the future. Many of them, too, preferred increase of power even to increase of income; and were not unwilling that their tenant should enter into engagements which they knew he could not fulfil. They therefore permitted and encouraged rent to grow up, under the impulse of competition, to the point of impossibility. They were thus enabled in all seasons, good or bad, to take everything which the tenant had, except a bare subsistence—and what those words mean in Ireland, we know; and as even then there was always a balance due, the tenant being in the landlord’s debt was in the landlord’s power, and could at all times, as far as law was concerned, be ejected at pleasure. The various Parliamentary inquiries into the state of Ireland have elicited the fact that tenants have not only covenanted to pay, but actually paid to the landlord more than the whole produce of the land they rented.1 Their earnings by English harvest work went chiefly to the landlord; and in the small portion of Ireland in which the peasants follow a double trade as agriculturists and weavers, they have been known to pay to the landlord part of their earnings as weavers, in addition to the whole produce of their plot of land;—so intense was the association in their minds between being without land and destitution, so uncontrollable the wish to retain at all costs a hold on some corner of earth, upon which, if other resources failed, they could fall back, and claim that ration of potatoes which any landlord must leave them, since, to pay any rent at all, it is necessary that the tenant should be alive.
We believe that the evil of nominal rents is now generally felt among the Irish landlords themselves, and that those who do not let their lands by competition, or at rack rents, are a constantly increasing proportion. But so long as anything in rent is arbitrary, under a cottier system, the tenant is never secure against the caprice or the necessities of his landlord. The curse of this system is, that it destroys, more utterly than any other system of nominally free labour, all motive either to industry or to prudence. To what end should the tenant, who is hopelessly in arrear to his landlord, exert himself to raise a larger produce? There would only be the more for the landlord to take from him; and one case in ten of its being actually taken is more than enough, since it is well known how small a doubt in a person’s mind of his being suffered to enjoy what he earns suffices, when conspiring with the natural indolence of man, to prevent him from earning it. Of what consequence to him is it whether he has only two children or ten? The ten are sure of having their meal of potatoes while there are any on the farm, and if there were but two they would have no more. A people have been for half a thousand years under such a régime as this, and men wonder at them for their indolence, and their want of enterprise, and their improvident marriages. They must be something more than human if they were not, in these particulars, all that they are charged with being.2 But to tell us in all gravity, that because they are all this, therefore they are so by nature and because of a difference of race, is a thing which might rouse the indignation even of persons not very quickly moved to such a sentiment, if that were a proper object of indignation which is perhaps only an aberration of the intellect.
A cottier-tenant system is essentially an anarchical system. Habitual disaffection to the law is almost inherent in it. The Russian people are not more completely separated into serfs and the masters of serfs, than the Irish people into the cultivators and the owners of land—two classes standing out with interests distinctly and absolutely contrary, and in a position which to the minds of the more numerous class cannot seem to be other than that of robbers and the robbed. The Many occupy and till the land, and a few, because they have the power, take from them the greater part of the produce. In England the labourer comes into direct collision of interest only with the farmer, and he gives something for what he receives—he gives his capital: even the landlord in England gives for the rent some equivalent to the farmer—he gives the land, enriched by former expenditure of capital—the landlord’s own, or that of previous farmers. But what does the Irish landlord give? There are many exceptions, we know, as there are many and honourable exceptions to every thing which has ever been said truly to the discredit of the class. But as a general fact, the Irish landlord gives no equivalent for his rent; he takes and appropriates it, not because he has done anything for the land, but because his ancestor seized it, or had it given to him by somebody who did. The right of the Irish landlord to his rent is only that of prescription; a valid title, but one which is extremely difficult to commend to those who do not profit by it. That a tenantry like the Irish should connect any sacredness with the rights of landlords is simply an impossibility; and it is only the engrossing nature, for centuries past, of the quarrels about religion which has postponed the breaking out of the permanent and irreconcileable quarrel which such a people must always have with the right to land.
The quarrel, however, has been always going on, and has long been a principal feature in the state of Ireland; but there has hitherto been a limit to the demands of the weaker side. They have not said that they would have the land itself, but they have said that they would and should have leave to grow potatoes on it; and they have made their words good by assassinating those who turned them out, or those who accepted after them the place from which they were turned. Such is the cottier system. Idleness and indigence are its elder children; Rockism its younger.3 There is another and a younger, still unborn, and that other is, Confiscation.
[1 ]See “Report from H.M. Commissioner of Inquiry into the State of the Law and Practice in Respect to the Occupation of Land in Ireland,” PP, 1845, XIX, 35.
[2 ]See the summary of Foster’s account in No. 308.
[3 ]Revolutionary violence, especially incendiarism, named for an Irish folklore hero, “Captain Rock.”