Front Page Titles (by Subject) 314.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 21 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:
314.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 21 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 
Mill’s discussion of fixity of tenure (in No. 311) had been criticized in a letter to the editor: “State of Ireland,” by “N.,” Morning Chronicle, 21 Oct., p. 5, from which Mill here quotes. For the context of the series, see No. 306. This unheaded leader is described in Mill’s bibliography as “An eighth leading article on Irish affairs, in the Morning Chronicle of 21st Oct. 1846”
(MacMinn, p. 61).
in another column will be found a letter, signed “N.,” called forth by the observations in our paper of the 14th, on fixity of tenure. The writer charges us with recommending, “openly and without disguise, the doctrine of general spoliation,” as applied to the landowners of Ireland; with advising “glibly and smoothly, that a general confiscation of the landed property of a whole country shall take place, and that what now belongs to the landlord by a right as good as that by which any man holds the coat that covers his back, shall henceforward be transferred to the tenant.”
When at a moment the most critical perhaps in Irish history, either for good or for evil, we endeavoured, so far as in us lay, that the abundance of good and honest feeling which now exists in the English Government and public towards Ireland, might not run to sheer waste for want of thought; when on the first occasion upon which such an exposition had a chance of being listened to, we showed, as others before us had shown without effect, what is really the root of Irish evils, how deep into the structure of Irish society the remedy, if it is to be really a remedy, must penetrate, and yet how easy, simple, and obvious it is, if they on whom it depends would only have the courage to think so; when we commenced this task, which we have not done without full conviction of the truth of the principles we have advanced, and a firm determination to stand by them to the utmost while that conviction remains unshaken, we were fully prepared to expect that for some time our opinions and purpose would not only be perversely misrepresented, but in many cases honestly misunderstood. This is so inevitably the fate of all political ideas beyond the strictest commonplace, as soon as there seems any possibility of their becoming practical, that we should have been disappointed if we had escaped the common lot; since an exemption would have proved to us nothing more flattering than that what we had written, under some hope of being useful, had not had the good fortune to excite any attention.
But although we were prepared for a good deal of misunderstanding, and for a good deal of trouble in setting it right, we did think we had sufficiently guarded against the particular misconception contained in the letter of our correspondent, and which we are still convinced could not have been fallen into by any one who had read our observations with sufficient attention. It is hardly necessary to say to those who have done so, that the plan technically called fixity of tenure is not our plan; we did but pass it in review, as we did other plans, for the purpose of rejecting it. And so little did we deserve our correspondent’s animadversions, that after we had pointed out that under certain modifications the scheme would not be a violation of property at all, we rejected it even as so modified, because, though it had not the reality, it would have the appearance of such a violation.
Without, however, occupying the reader any further with what we said formerly, we will say now what we think on the subject. To bind down the landlord in perpetuity to his present rent would be a spoliation of property. It would be a confiscation of his contingent prospects of an increase of income—a contingency which, in any progressive country, and under anything but the most intolerable mismanagement, amounts to a certainty, and which, like any other prospective gain, has its present marketable value. It would mulct him of the difference between the selling price of his land, and the price of a similar income secured on mortgage or in the public funds. Viewed in this light, we disapprove it as decidedly and should oppose it as strenuously as our correspondent, though we certainly did not express ourselves in quite such indignant language, for we confess that, however wrong we think them, we cannot feel any very bitter indignation against those who, where a whole people are the sufferers, propose desperate remedies for desperate diseases.1
But we repeat, and we challenge who will to deny it, that the whole injustice of fixity of tenure would be cured by pecuniary compensation, and by a compensation strictly limited to the pecuniary loss. Whatever the estate would lose in saleable value if the rent were converted into a rent-charge, the landlord ought to receive, either from the tenant or from the state, and could not without flagrant injustice be deprived of. Receiving this, he would obtain the full measure of what is thought due to those from whom their land is taken away, often against their strongest protest, for public improvements. That is not accounted plunder, and spoliation, and confiscation. What is not plunder when it affects one person, or ten, or a hundred, is not plunder if applied to five thousand. The number makes no difference in the justice of the case, though it may in the policy, because the magnitude of the transaction brings it into contact with great considerations of public policy, which on the small scale it cannot possibly affect. The general principle is the same in the great case as in the small. The Legislature of the country can deal with the property of the country as expediency requires, making compensation to the owners. This right is recognized by every railroad or canal bill which passes through Parliament. The reform of the social condition of a country is a greater object than any railway bill. If that object could be no otherwise obtained than by treating every landlord in Ireland as railway bills treat all persons through whose property the railway is to be made, we feel assured that our correspondent is not one of those who would be turned back by such an obstacle.
But this measure would be a revolution in itself, and would require for its justification that which justifies a revolution—a state of extreme misgovernment and suffering, otherwise incurable. The first condition is fully realised in Ireland, but the second is not. Milder remedies are possible. This is the point we are labouring to prove, and we call loudly upon our correspondent, and upon those who think with him, to join in our endeavour. For they may be assured, that there is no other mode of permanently averting the extremity which they so justly deprecate. Unless those who have influence in Parliament and in the public can find another remedy, and apply it too, they will not long persuade an uneducated peasantry, who have never yet seen a friend in the law, to respect the proprietary rights which the law gives, when those rights have no sanction in their own feelings; and the choice may soon lie between a real confiscation and a second Cromwellian conquest.2 The onus lies upon every English statesman or publicist, who has an intellect and a conscience, to have an opinion upon what should be given to Ireland instead of fixity of tenure; and not only to have an opinion but to express it, and not only to express it but, within his sphere of influence, to act upon it.
In endeavouring to acquit ourselves of our share of this common obligation, we have found it necessary to say that fixity of tenure, though liable as a practical measure to insurmountable objections, has yet one admirable quality, which the greater part of the schemes afloat for Irish improvement have not, and the absence of which makes them so futile and worthless. It gives to the cultivator a permanent interest in the soil. In doing this it combines the greatest economical and the greatest moral good of which Ireland in its present condition is susceptible. And these two things are inseparable; both must be provided for by any plan of improvement deserving the name. Without the moral change, the greatest economical improvement will last no longer than a prodigal’s bounty; without the economical change, the moral improvement will not be attained at all. We say therefore, once more, that this feature of the scheme of fixity of tenure must be found in any plan which can be permanently useful to Ireland. The peasantry, or so numerous a class of them as to be an example and a stimulus to the rest, must have somewhere, and under some form, a proprietary interest in the soil. Give them, we say, this proprietary interest in the lands now unoccupied, which, fortunately, are more than sufficient for the purpose, and not only will there be no temptation to encroach on the rights of those who own the cultivated lands, but they will be delivered from an insuperable difficulty and an insupportable burthen, and for the first time will be really masters of the land called theirs. Every class in the country, and almost every individual, would gain, even pecuniarily, by the plan we support. It has no obstacle in men’s interests, but only in the timidity and sluggishness of their minds.
The plan, too, has the advantage over fixity of tenure, that while permanent benefit to the Irish people is at the end, the means may be made instrumental to the relief of their immediate necessities. Our correspondent imputes to us very gratuitously a gross absurdity when he says that we “do not explain how, if all the tenants in Ireland were tomorrow to be converted into owners of the patches of ground they occupy, they would be able to raise, by taxation upon themselves, funds to give to themselves wages to save themselves from the famine which at present threatens them.” We were not then discussing plans of temporary relief, but of permanent improvement, in which light alone fixity of tenure ever was, or, except by an insane person, ever could be advocated. But the plan we uphold unites both recommendations. Practised on a sufficient scale, it would at once expel the acute disease by which Ireland is now afflicted, and put things in a correct train for permanently correcting her chronic and long-standing malady.
[1 ]For the phrase, see Roger L’Estrange (1616-1704), Fables of Aesop and Other Eminent Moralists: with Morals and Reflexions (London: Sare, et al, 1692), p. 364 (Fable 391, “Mice, Cat and a Bell”).
[2 ]Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), leader of the Commonwealth forces and Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, completed the conquest of the island in 1652.