Front Page Titles (by Subject) 315.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 22 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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315.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 22 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. This unheaded leader is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A ninth leading article on Irish affairs in the Morning Chronicle of 22d Oct. 1846”
(MacMinn, p. 61).
the dublin freeman’s journal of Saturday last, in an article occasioned by the opinions we have promulgated respecting the disposal of the waste lands (opinions to which, as we are pleased, but not surprised, to find, that influential paper gives its cordial assent), bears the following valuable testimony to the complete practicability of the reclamation of those lands by peasant labour:
A week’s ramble through Connemara, or Erris, or Kerry, and we presume the same to be true of other counties where the waste lands abound, will convince the most sceptical that labour can be profitably employed in the reclamation even of such lands as would not prove remunerative to the large capitalist. The Irish peasant’s labour was hitherto of little value in the market. Labour was abundant, employment scarce; and whenever the peasant found an opportunity of mingling his labour with the barren soil, he did so, though with no better prospect than that of having the owner of the soil come in and possess himself of the permanent fruits of his toil, before he had himself reaped even what would pay him a tithe of the value of his labour. We have seen this process repeated many times by the same peasant family. We have seen him reclaim a patch of bog, enjoy it for a brief period, and then yield it to a rent-payer; then retire to another patch, to reclaim and yield it up in like manner, and so on, labouring with the full conviction that one day or other his lord would have all the benefit, but ever hoping, even against experience, that the evil day might be far off. The peasant family did this because their time was valueless, and by such a process they were enabled to make it yield them a sustenance equivalent, perhaps, to a fifth of its market value. Yet that fractional payment kept them from begging, and rendered what would otherwise continue to be barren soil, productive and valuable.1
Sic vos non vobis!2 Are these the purposes for which landed property is ordained in a country pretending to civilization? Is it that he who sows may not reap3 —that not he who toils, but some other, may receive the benefit? We all know the foundation and justification of the institution of property to be precisely the reverse. The moral and social basis of the right of property is the right of the labourer to the fruits of his labour. All other proprietary rights exist for the sake of this. The millionnaire, who never did a day’s work of useful labour with head or hands, who is society’s debtor for every thing, and its creditor for nothing, has his property protected, not for its own sake, nor for his, but because to meddle with it would be to violate the right which some ancestor or predecessor, who did work for it, had to transmit it freely to his descendants, or to persons of his choice. If all property rests upon no other than this foundation, landed property does so pre-eminently. Land is not the produce of labour. No landlord’s ancestor made the land.4 Why then is land appropriated? We do not mean, why was it appropriated, for we know that the most usual ground of possession was force and conquest: but why is its appropriation rightful? Why is property in land a recognized necessity of society? on what ground have, not usurpers and tyrants, but sages and philanthropists, defended it? On this—that land, although not made by labour, can only be rendered useful by it, and because labour will not be applied in the most useful manner by the exertions of any others than those who have a permanent interest in the land.
Land might be held in common, or, what would be less irrational, it might be granted out on yearly leases by the State. It is conceded to individuals in permanent property for one legitimate reason only, because a permanent proprietor has the strongest motive to be an improver. Proprietors exist in order that they may be improvers, not in order that they may profit by improvements made by others. When the proprietors of land, generally speaking, are not improvers, the purposes for which landed property exists are not answered. When, instead of being improvers, they are an obstacle to improvement—when, without any public purpose in view, they keep land waste which others are eager to cultivate, or suffer it to be made valuable by those who have no permanent interest in it, in order to seize on the value—we do not say that they are culpable. The law gave them the land, attaching no conditions to the gift, and none but an extraordinary man is a law to himself,5 according to a higher standard than custom. But we do say that landed property, thus used, exists to frustrate the ends which it is designed to promote. It is instituted that improvement may not be hindered; it exists as the hindrance. It is instituted that what is created by industry may abide with the creators; it exists that what their labour alone has called into being, may be wrung from them.
Seeing what the “indolent Celt”6 is already found capable of achieving, without the stimulus of property—seeing that the mere prospect of a few years precarious possession has so often induced him, without science, without capital, without aid from the possessors of either, not under the encouragement of law, but in violation of it, with no resource but his own hands, and those of his family, to perform what is regarded as one of the most arduous feats of agricultural improvement, the conversion of peat-bog into arable land; we are justified in believing that if the primeval waste had stood open in the primeval manner to the first occupier, as the prize of him who succeeded in making it valuable, it would long ere this have been covered from one end to the other by a hard-working, frugal, peaceable, and, in all probability, prudent and self-restraining peasant proprietary. Society, which maintains landed property in order that cultivation may thrive, has prevented all this cultivation, by granting to certain persons, over land which they did not use, the power of prohibiting all other persons from using it. What was this done for? What end had society in view in it? What benefit has society reaped from it? What equivalent have its favourites returned to it for the gift? That which was meant as an exclusive right to use the land they have turned into a veto on the use. “Hitherto,” in the words of the Freeman’s Journal,
Irish proprietors almost instinctively looked to the mountains and bogs on their estates as so many grouse-moors and snipe-marshes from which it was their duty to repel the approaches of industry. The Legislature encouraged this sentiment by every possible means, and even seemed to think it a part of its duty to offer every possible obstacle to the introduction of an extended system of improvement.7
Let the Legislature, then, repair its error. The rights it has conferred, mischievous and anti-social as they have in fact proved, let it not resume without compensation. Those rights have a market value, and let that value be paid to the last penny. But let it be the present value, not a speculative price, grounded on the improvements which are only to be effected by means of the purchase. The value of the bogs and mountains to their nominal owners is but a trifle. They are entitled to no more; what more the Legislature can spare is required to feed the industrious improvers, while they work for their own future independence, and the State will be amply repaid by a fraction of the value which their labour will bestow on the now worthless land.
[1 ]“Location on the Waste Lands,” The Public Register; or, The Freeman’s Journal, 17 Oct., 1846, p. 2. In the same issue, p. 3, is reprinted No. 312, to which favourable reference is made in this leading article.
[2 ]Suetonius (b. ca. 70 ), Praeter Caesarum libros reliquiae, ed. Augustus Reifferscheid (Leipzig: Teubner, 1860), p. 67n.
[3 ]Cf. John, 4:37.
[4 ]Cf. Principles of Political Economy, Bk. II, Chap. vi, Sect. 6, in CW, Vol. II, p. 230; and England and Ireland, CW, Vol. VI, p. 512.
[5 ]Cf. Romans, 2:14.
[6 ]See No. 308 for this characterization of the Irish by Thomas Campbell Foster.
[7 ]“Location on the Waste Lands,” p. 2.