Front Page Titles (by Subject) 312.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 15 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:
312.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 15 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, see No. 306. This unheaded leader, which opens with a quotation from Over-Population, and Its Remedy (London: Longman, et al., 1846) by Mill’s friend and India Office colleague, William Thomas Thornton (1813-80), is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A sixth leading article on Irish affairs in the Morning Chronicle of 15th October 1846”
(MacMinn, p. 61).
two miles from the little town of Kilcullen, in Kildare, is a tract of excessively green land, dotted over with brilliant white cottages, each with its couple of trim acres of garden, where you see thick potato ridges covered with blossom, great blue plots of comfortable cabbages, and such pleasant plants of the poor man’s garden. Two or three years since, the land was a marshy common, which had never since the days of the Deluge fed any being bigger than a snipe, and into which the poor people descended, draining and cultivating, and rescuing the marsh from the water, and raising their cabins, and setting up their little enclosures of two or three acres upon the land which they had thus created. There are now two hundred flourishing little homesteads upon this rescued land, and as many families in comfort and plenty. Now, if two or three acres of reclaimed marsh can furnish plentiful subsistence to one family, 600,000 acres would do as much for 200,000 families; that is to say, for one-fourth part of the Irish peasantry, which is as large a proportion as can well be supposed unable to procure a competent livelihood. According to the most recent accounts, there are considerably more than six millions of acres of land lying waste in Ireland, of which about three-fifths are acknowledged to be improvable.1
This passage is from the work of Mr. William Thornton, Over-population and its Remedy; a book honourably distinguished from most others of recent date, by the union of philanthropic feelings with sound knowledge and good sense. We recommend the whole work, and particularly its opinions and recommendations on Irish affairs, to the consideration of those who have any power over the present critical turning point in the destinies of that ill-treated country.
Mr. Foster’s indolent Celt,2 then, is not incapable of enterprise and persevering industry, when the object which calls forth those qualities lies in the direction of his previous habits. He is already an improver and reclaimer of waste lands; nay, he is almost alone in that character. Mr. Nicholls states, that most of the recently recovered bog which he saw in his journey through the western counties was reclaimed, not by the landlords, but by small occupiers, who drained and enclosed an acre or two at a time.3 This they did without even the motive of property; knowing that they could not thereby acquire a title to the land; knowing that the best which they could expect would be to hold the ground rent free, until the landlord’s or his agent’s sense of justice had exhausted itself with the degree of forbearance shown them. Squatters are, we have reason to think, by no means unfrequent on Irish estates. These people reclaim and cultivate the waste, well knowing that they shall have rent to pay, and that ultimately they shall only be permitted to hold the land which they have rendered productive, on the same footing as other cottiers. But they hope for a few years’ respite. They hope to be allowed to make the land worth taking before the landlord steps in and takes it. They hope that he will for a few years connive at their doing his work, at their supporting themselves by the land while they render it capable of afterwards affording rent to him.
The fact, then, being established, that the waste can be reclaimed by the peasantry themselves, even from a less motive than a property in it, and without any assistance from the State, one would think the most obvious idea which could present itself to any one who wished to use the waste lands as an instrument for improving the condition of the peasantry, would be to make that which already takes place on a small scale take place on a large, by giving to the peasantry the inducement of property in the soil reclaimed by them, and by affording to them, from the State, such assistance as may be needful, and as the State is willing to give. The assistance required would cost less to the State than the most moderate sum ever voted by Parliament for Irish distress. That the bogs and mountains of Ireland may sometimes be drained and enclosed without capital, is proved by the fact that the thing is already done. It often requires nothing but labour—a commodity of which Irish cottiers have always more than enough on their hands. It would be necessary to buy up the rights of those who are now the nominal owners of these lands; for there can be no more than nominal ownership of that which has never been used since the country was inhabited, and cannot be used now unless the State supplies the means. The value of an Irish bog is only the value of the right to cut turf on it. Having become the proprietor of the whole or a sufficient portion of the waste, the State could divide it into portions of the most convenient size, and grant these in absolute property to such of the peasantry as could produce the best certificates of steadiness and industry, or to such as would undertake to bring their lots into cultivation with the smallest amount of pecuniary assistance. If it were necessary to advance to each family a year’s food, and a trifle for tools, where would be the difficulty? The interest of this, laid on in the form of a perpetual quit-rent, would save the State from loss, and would be but a small abatement from the value of the boon; or instead of a perpetual, the State might receive its compensation in the form of a terminable annuity, so as ultimately to enfranchise the land from all payment. In cases in which it would be desirable to operate on a greater scale, by draining at once the whole of a large tract of country, the State can as easily do this for the peasantry as Lord Besborough can now undertake to do it for the landlords.4 The work, during its execution, would provide food and employment for the famishing people in the one way as effectually as in the other, and the State could be indemnified by an additional quit-rent, payable from the new peasant proprietors.
By this plan one-fourth or one-third of the Irish peasantry would, in two or three years, be not only in a state of present ease, but under the influence of the strongest attainable motives to industry, prudence, and economy, and with their interests all ranged on the side of tranquillity and the law, because the law would have ceased to be their oppressor, and become their benefactor. Nor would the benefit stop here. The remaining peasantry, and the landlords themselves, would be only a degree less benefitted than the new proprietary. That clearance of estates which is now synonymous with turning out the population to starve, and which, precisely because it ought not, cannot be effected save on the most inconsiderable scale while things remain as at present, would then accomplish itself spontaneously, and with unmixed benefit, by the mere withdrawing of a large section of the people from the competition for land. The residuary population would not be too numerous to be supported, in comparative comfort, yet leaving a large rent for the landlord; and English capital and English farming might then be introduced with advantage to all, because the cottier population would no longer exceed the numbers who could, with benefit to the farmer, be retained on the land as labourers. Then, and then only, would English capital find its way to Ireland, for then, and only then, would its owner have nothing to fear from the “wild justice”5 of an ejected tenantry. That tenantry would exist no more as tenantry, but they would exist as farm labourers; not such as the Wiltshire or Dorsetshire labourer, without heart because without hope, with nothing which he can rise to, nothing to reward or encourage exertion and self-denial, but a prize of two sovereigns from an agricultural society, and the poor-house for his sole ultimatum and harbour of refuge. Not such would the Irish peasant be, but cheered and stimulated by the hope which animates the Continental labourer, the hope of being in time numbered, through industry and frugality, among the class of peasant proprietors; a lot sufficiently above his own to be desirable, and not sufficiently so to be unattainable.
[1 ]Thornton, pp. 429-31. The sentence “There . . . plenty.” is quoted by Thornton from William Makepeace Thackeray, The Irish Sketch-Book (London: Chapman and Hall, 1843), Vol. I, p. 46.
[2 ]The description by The Times’ correspondent in Ireland; see No. 308.
[3 ]George Nicholls lived in Ireland 1838-42 to direct the working of the Irish Poor-Law Act. Mill’s reference is to “Report of George Nicholls, Esq., to His Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State for the Home Department, on Poor Laws, Ireland” (15 Nov., 1836), PP, 1837, LI, 212.
[4 ]John William Ponsonby (1781-1847), Viscount Duncannon and 4th Earl of Bessborough, was Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, 1846-47. For his aid to landlords, see No. 313.
[5 ]See Francis Bacon, “Of Revenge,” Essay 4 of The Essayes or Counsels, in Works, Vol. VI, p. 384.