Front Page Titles (by Subject) 313.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 17 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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313.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 17 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 
Mill here refers to a temporary relief measure of the Lord Lieutenant, John William Ponsonby, which ran directly counter to his own ideas. At Ponsonby’s direction, a proclamation had been prepared by Henry Labouchere (1798-1869), later 1st Baron Taunton, liberal M.P., who became Secretary of State of Ireland in the summer of 1846. The proclamation of 5 Oct., generally known as “Labouchere’s Letter,” authorized the use of the loans, already set aside for public works under 9 & 10 Victoria, cc. 107-9 (28 Aug., 1846), for the drainage and improvement of private estates, the money to be repaid by barony assessment (see The Times, 8 Oct., p. 5, and 9 Oct., p. 4). Though the goal was conversion from “unproductive” public works such as unneeded roads to “reproductive” or useful projects, the result in Mill’s opinion was the unjustifiable use of state aid to enrich the landlords. For the other articles in the series and the full context, see No. 306. This unheaded leader is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A seventh leading article on Irish affairs, in the Morning Chronicle of 17th October (the second leader)” (MacMinn, p. 61). (Mill probably specifies the second leader because the first also pertains to Ireland.)
that the waste lands of ireland are her best resource for the present temporary emergency—that the large and liberal relief which in a time of famine must be given to the starving peasantry had better be given in payment for labour than for idleness, and for productive labour than for unproductive, and that the reclaiming of the waste is the chief, not to say almost the only, field which Ireland affords for employment so productive as to be remunerative—all this is agreed to by everybody, and is so obvious as to be assented to as soon as stated. Six million acres of land, of which let us even suppose that only four millions are improveable—here is a mine of wealth which, by a remarkable anomaly, still remains to be worked. The rich, we have been told, could not do it, because they had not the money, or the enterprise, or for some equally good reason; the poor, because they had not the legal right. Whether the State ought to find money to do it, might, with many people, be questionable at other times. But since the State is, at any rate, to find the money, it is clear to all minds that what we have already stated is what ought to be done with it. Since, then, Ministers had not, during the last session, matured any measure for the purpose, the Lord-Lieutenant is expected to assume the responsibility of doing what seems to be regarded as the only way in which public money can be applied to improving the waste lands—namely, to improve them for the landlords. And under the terms of the recent proclamation this may be, and to some extent we fear it will be, done.
There is something in this so exquisitely of a piece with all the doings of England for Ireland’s good, and it is, besides, so fine a specimen of the ideas of the English public concerning the mode in which a Legislature should distribute its benefits, that it is altogether a very rich exhibition of some of our national characteristics. Give to those who have—that is the maxim of English politics. One gospel precept, at least, we follow literally, “to him that hath shall be given.”1 But when he that hath has got all that we can give him, it is his business to take care of them that have not—and we know how, in general, he does so. Here are four millions of acres of valueless land about to be made valuable, and here are a noble squirearchy and aristocracy quite capable of receiving it. Give it to them by all means. Once let them grasp it, and you will see what they will do for the poor in the way of employment and of charity. This really seems to be considered, by the majority of minds, as the natural and necessary concatenation of ideas on the subject, and a highly rational and virtuous course of conduct.
The singularity of the thing is, that it certainly is not the landlords of Ireland that England, in the ready overflow of its liberality, desires to benefit. It is the poor—the peasantry, and them only. The landlords are decidedly unpopular: everybody grudges them what they have, much less is anybody desirous of adding to their store. But really the thing cannot be helped. They stand with their hands held out, between our gift and the peasantry, and there is actually no means, at least so everybody seems to think, of making it reach the peasantry by any other way than through their pockets. It is curious; but so it is. That the benefit could possibly be bestowed directly upon those for whose sake we give it, and whom alone we have any wish to benefit by it, is not so much an idea rejected by us, as one which never enters into our minds at all.
The root of this is deeply seated in the inveterate habits which were generated by a century and a half of oligarchical government, and which we have scarcely yet begun to shake off. To do anything for the poor by act of Parliament is a thing so unprecedented that it never presents itself in the light of a possibility. The machinery of legislation never suggests itself as an available means for such a purpose. When it is to make the rich richer, yes; that is an approved and a customary course: any project which assumes that form has a presumption in its favour. But to make the poor less poor, by exactly the same means, is a novelty to startle people. There have been in England plenty of inclosure bills, plenty of waste land brought under culture, and who ever heard of giving any of it to the poor? So far from it, that only after long struggles has the principle been conceded (and a most transcendent stretch of generosity was the concession thought), that compensation ought to be made to the poor for what they actually lose, the whole of the gain still going, as it has always gone, to swell the estates of the rich. This is the misfortune; this is what makes men so slow to see what common justice and common feeling dictate—because common justice and common feeling have hitherto been strangers to this department of human affairs, and it is some time before people learn to recognise their voice. The poor are only thought of as the recipients of alms, and in that character but too much. To give to the poor is thought meritorious, but the only thing which it is ever supposed can be done by the Legislature is, that if individuals do not voluntarily give to the poor, it can compel them to do so. The very people who would employ the whole public expenditure intended for the relief of the Irish poor in enriching the Irish landlords, are indignant because those landlords do not give to the poor, and would make laws to compel them. Then why not give the waste lands to the poor, instead of adding to the domains of the landlords, and then they will not need the alms you are so ready to enforce.
The English nation owes a tremendous debt to the Irish people for centuries of misgovernment, perpetrated mostly for no English interest or purpose, but for the sole interest of that colony of English descent who have got the lands of Ireland into their possession, and until of late had all the powers of government. If ever compensation was due from one people to another, this is the case for it. We have an opportunity of making this compensation, in the most admirable form for the permanent advantage of the receivers; in a form as well suited to educate them into better habits and higher civilization, as our past conduct was calculated to barbarise and anarchise, if the expression may be permitted, even a civilised people. We have the unlooked-for, and, it may be truly said, the unmerited privilege, of being able to do this without cost to ourselves, beyond a mere advance of what we would most readily bestow, without return, for the relief of present misery. We have lands at our disposal, of such quality, and in such abundance, as, if employed properly, would confer on Ireland, instead of her present wretchedness, an economical state, combining the best features of the English system with those of the most prosperous nations of the Continent. And this splendid opportunity—such perhaps as no nation ever had, of repairing its errors, and conferring an inestimable benefit on those whom it has wronged—are we about to throw it away? Are we about to reclaim and improve these millions of acres for the purpose of bringing them under the cottier system? Can we find nothing better to do with these lands, than an operation which, when completed, will leave Ireland with merely a larger population, as hungry, indolent, improvident, and justly exasperated as before, and without that precious resource for relieving their poverty, and elevating them as human beings, which it is our good fortune not yet to have parted with? Are we, indeed, going to squander a treasure of material wealth, which ought to be a treasure of still more valuable moral wealth, and to squander it in the worst of ways—by lavishing it on those who, of all persons connected with Ireland, have hitherto, as a class, deserved least consideration, least respect, and even least indulgence?
Whether there is virtue enough in England to prevent this, a few weeks, or at most months, will decide.
[1 ]Matthew, 13:12.