Front Page Titles (by Subject) 316.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 23 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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316.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 23 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 discusses the waste-land reclamation plan of Poulett Scrope, which had been recently reiterated in a letter to Lord John Russell (20 Oct., 1846), Morning Chronicle, 21 Oct., p. 5, from which the quotations are taken. See Nos. 320, 322, 326, 341, 345, and 348 for further arguments with Scrope. For the context of the series, see No. 306. This unheaded leader is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A tenth leading article on Irish affairs, in the Morning Chronicle of 23d October 1846 (the second leader)” (MacMinn, p. 61). As in the case of No. 313, Mill specifies the second leader probably because the first also pertains to Ireland.
in the plan which we have suggested for making the waste lands of Ireland instrumental to the creation of that invaluable element in the social condition of nations, a peasant proprietary, we had been anticipated not only in the excellent work of Mr. William Thornton,1 but in some measure by Mr. Poulett Scrope. That gentleman introduced a bill into Parliament during the last session, to facilitate the reclaiming of Irish waste lands;2 and in a letter to Lord John Russell, published in our paper of Wednesday, he opportunely reminds us that his plan was favourably looked upon by the present Government, and recapitulates its chief provisions.
The main principle of his measure, as stated by himself,
was, that the Board of Works should be empowered to purchase, at their present value, any portions of the waste lands of Ireland (in the same manner as a railway company takes the lands it requires for its purposes), and to set to work to drain and commence the reclamation of such tracts, in any or every part of Ireland, wherever they should think fit, funds being advanced, of course, by the Treasury; that as fast as any such lands became fitted for cultivation they should be divided into small or moderate-sized farms, houses built on them, and either sold outright or leased for ninety-nine years at a quit-rent, with the option to the occupier to purchase at any time, or by instalments, under strict covenants not to subdivide or sublet.
Mr. Scrope sets forth, in language which we most fully adopt, the manifold advantages of this over the other plans for meeting the existing emergency. That the relief afforded would be not only a productive expenditure, but the most productive which the circumstances of Ireland admit of; that, lucrative as the work would be, it can scarcely be effected without the assumption of a power by Government, since it must be done by deepening the water-courses throughout large tracts of country, for which either compulsory authority, or the consent of every individual proprietor is indispensable; that the profit would be reaped, as it ought to be, not by the class of landlords but by the State; that even in the first year following the operation, a large addition would be made to the food of the country. Lastly—and we quote this sentence with particular pleasure—
the means would be provided of locating a body of some hundred thousand of the peasantry of Ireland on lands of their own—of creating a body of small proprietors, such as in Belgium, France, Norway, and Switzerland, offering examples of greater prudence, self-restraint, and productive industry, the very qualities so much required in Ireland, than are to be found among any tenants-at-will or rack-rented leaseholders in the world.
Differing, as we do most widely, from Mr. Scrope’s opinions on Irish poor-laws,3 it is a satisfaction to be in such complete accordance respecting the social condition to which, though by far other means than poor-laws, we wish to raise the Irish people. And we rejoice to think that if the Government fail to make this great question their own, there is an independent and zealous member of Parliament who is virtually pledged to bring it under the consideration of the Legislature. We suspect, however, that there would be found, along with much agreement, a certain amount of difference between Mr. Scrope’s view of the question and our own; and it will enable us to bring certain features of the subject into bolder relief, if we briefly state what we conceive these points of difference would be.
It seems to us that in Mr. Scrope’s plan of location on waste lands, no less than in his poor-law plan, the increase of the produce, and in particular of the food of the country, is the primary object; and that this should be done with profit to the State appears to be the second. The creation of a peasant proprietary seems to him desirable, but apparently stands only in the third rank. In our minds the order of precedency is very different. After the people are saved from present starvation, which must be presupposed in all plans, the formation of a peasant proprietary should, in our opinion, be the first object; all other things are of secondary importance. It is on that we have to rely for the permanent usefulness of all the rest. We look with comparative indifference on any scheme of improvement which begins and ends with increase of food. We desiderate a guarantee that increase of food shall have some better permanent consequence than increase of mouths. That guarantee must be something operating upon the minds of the people, and not merely upon their stomachs. They must have something to strive for, some object of rational ambition. They must have something placed before them which shall make new men of them; men such as Mr. Scrope truly describes the small proprietors of Belgium, France, Norway, and Switzerland to be—examples not only of “productive industry,” but of “prudence and self-restraint.” That plan, therefore, is in our view the best which, without making the subdivision too minute, creates the most numerous class of small proprietors; a class the most acted on by prudential motives, and whose existence tends most to strengthen those motives in the minds of others, of all classes who live by the labour of their hands.
With this view we would relinquish all idea of profit to the State. Mr. Scrope’s plan makes this consideration paramount to the more important object. He would have the State reclaim the land, bring it into thorough order, build houses on it, and then sell it, or lease it for ninety-nine years—we presume at its market value. But long leases, even with the option of purchase, would very slowly raise up a proprietary; and sales to the highest bidder might attract proprietors with capital from elsewhere, but would, we are afraid, create few such from among the Irish peasantry. In our view, the State should be abundantly satisfied with not being a loser; it should content itself with simple interest on its advances. Neither should it undertake the whole improvement of the land, but only that part of the operation which cannot be effectually done otherwise than by combined labour. If the State erects houses and farm buildings, it will make them too good for the existing peasantry, too costly to begin with, and too troublesome to have any chance of being kept up. The people themselves should do all the work of improvement which they are capable of. It is precisely that which will sift the more energetic portion of the population from the rest, and discriminate those in whose hands the experiment is most likely to thrive. That the thing can be done, even now, by the peasantry, if the law permits, and if they are supplied with food in the meantime, we already know. Let them build their own cottages. At first it is likely that those they built would be as much too bad as those built for them would be too good. No matter. Trust to time, and the gradual influence of the change in their condition. Trust to the feeling of proprietorship, that never-failing source of local attachments. When the cottage is theirs—when the land which surrounds it is theirs—there will be a pleasure in enlarging, and improving, and adorning the one and the other. When the peasant feels that he is somebody—that he counts for something on the earth—that he also is one of those for whose sake the institutions of society exist, the consciousness will have the same effect on him which it now has on those above him, and he will not choose to live in wretchedness and squalor on the land which is his own.
[1 ]William Thomas Thornton, Over-Population, pp. 413-40; the work is discussed in No. 312.
[2 ]Scrope in a speech of 28 Apr., 1846 (PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 85, cols. 1198-1206), introduced “A Bill for Promoting the Reclamation of Waste Lands in Ireland,” 9 Victoria (5 June, 1846), PP, 1846, IV, 485-524.
[3 ]For the Poor Law Bill introduced by Scrope, see No. 306, n2.