Front Page Titles (by Subject) 321.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 2 NOV., 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:
321.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 2 NOV., 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:
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:
THE CONDITION OF IRELAND 
Mill here discusses the Prize Essay, Addressed to the Agricultural Committee of the Royal Dublin Society. On the Management of Landed Property in Ireland (Dublin: Curry, 1834), by William Blacker (1775-1855), Vice-Treasurer of Ireland 1817-29, who managed the estates of Archibald Acheson (1776-1849), 2nd Earl of Gosford. For the context of the series, see No. 306. This unheaded second leader is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A thirteenth leading article on Irish affairs in the Morning Chronicle of 2d Novemb. 1846”
(MacMinn, p. 62).
common sense seldom proves to be altogether new. A practical suggestion, really called for by the time, and adapted to it, is generally found to have been made repeatedly before, and not attended to. It has been pointed out to us that the plan we advocate for the location of the peasantry of Ireland on the waste lands, for which we have already acknowledged our obligation to Mr. William Thornton,1 was propounded as early as 1834, and what is more surprising, in a prize essay to which the Dublin Society awarded their gold medal.2 The author of the essay is a high authority on Irish agriculture, Mr. Blacker, of Armagh, the well-known manager of Lord Gosford’s and other estates in the north of Ireland; one of those meritorious persons who have shown by example in what manner Irish resources and the Irish people can be improved, if those set over them take pains and have patience, and possess the qualities which inspire confidence. The attempt, indeed, has seldom failed in the hands of landlords or agents who knew the proper means of influencing a most docile and flexible people, and who were not too selfishly grasping or too selfishly idle to practice them. But this category comprises so few persons, that in spite of the brilliant success, both philanthropic and pecuniary, which has rewarded those few, Ireland, as a country, still remains what we see it.
Mr. Blacker’s essay is full of valuable suggestions, drawn from his ample experience, for the better management of the lands already under cultivation. Of these we may make use hereafter, as occasion offers, but for the present we are concerned only with such of his propositions as relate to the waste lands.
Mr. Blacker proposes
that the State should assume the right of taking to itself those tracts of reclaimable land which the owners continue to let remain uncultivated, and after giving fair compensation, should make a practical experiment whether they could not be colonized to advantage. Let the experiment, of course, be first made where the greatest chance of success exists, that is, where fuel and limestone are to be had, and drainage most practicable, [or] where extensive and reclaimable morasses are owned by such a number of proprietors as to make any joint effort at reclaiming the least likely to take place. In this respect the valuable reports of the Bog Commissioners, made some years back, and the present Ordnance survey, would give ample information.3 Take, for example, the Bog of Allen, where there are, I believe, thousands of acres, capable of drainage, to which no individual right can be proved. Suppose Government to undertake the drainage of this, and to purchase, by a valuation, such parts as any property could be proved in. Let the work be then undertaken at the public expense, under the direction of experienced engineers, and let the workmen be stimulated to exertion by having an allotment of ten to twenty acres in perpetuity proposed to them as the reward of good conduct. Their own numbers would afford mutual protection, and as soon as the drainage was completed, let their lot be marked out, and they turned over from the engineer to the agriculturist.
Concerning the most advantageous mode of affording public aid to these settlers, Mr. Blacker’s opinions, being founded on personal knowledge, are more enlightened, and more suitable to the peculiarities of the case, than those of Mr. Poulett Scrope.
Government, [he says,] should not advance one farthing, except for such objects as supplied the means of industry, as lime, seeds, &c., and some assistance to roof their huts. Let every comfort be the fruit of their own industry, to raise which to the utmost pitch of exertion nothing more would be necessary than to hold out the prospect of a perpetuity, as above-mentioned.
Suppose a settler to have earned, by previous labour under the engineer, the small sum that would support him whilst he would be engaged in setting his potatoes upon his new lot, and having done so, that he should then return to his work until his crop was ripe, and that in his extra hours he should, during the summer, put up a small cabin, which his earnings might, perhaps, enable him to do, or with the assistance of 40s. or 50s. advanced to him; he would then be perfectly fit to proceed in reclaiming, and with much less hardship and suffering than attends an emigrant on his first settlement in America, which would cost as much for one family as would put thirty here in the way of becoming independent.
This great improver, and most competent judge of the motives which sway the Irish farmer, bears important testimony to the practical efficacy of that greatest of boons, a permanent interest in the soil:
It is the charm contained in the word perpetuity which induces such numbers of individuals, who have been accustomed to many of the comforts of life, to emigrate to America, and there undergo hardships far beyond what any settler would experience at home. . . . I have supposed the settler a mere pauper; but the idea of obtaining a perpetuity, without incurring any ill will, or being exposed to any insecurity, would bring settlers from all parts of the kingdom, having capital to build houses and reclaim the lands without any assistance whatever. In fact, I am fully persuaded, that if Government confined themselves merely to the purchasing all land that was allowed to lie waste by the owners, and having brought it into a state fit for cultivation, by draining, would then let it in perpetuity, in small farms, at a remunerating rent, there would be applicants enough to occupy any land that might in this way be brought into the market, and with capital sufficient for its cultivation.
This deep sense of “the charm contained in the word perpetuity,” has the greater evidentiary value when coming from Mr. Blacker, as it cannot in his case be ascribed to any preconceived theory; for his attention does not seem to have been drawn to the vast utility of a peasant proprietary, either as a feature in the social condition of a country generally, or as a means of reforming and elevating the habits of Irish peasants. His plan is proposed on grounds merely economical, as one which would increase the produce of the country and the employment for labour, and at the same time yield a large profit to the Government. Accordingly, it is no part of his proposal that the rent should be limited to simple interest on the advances made by the State. For the first seven years he would so limit it, estimating the interest, however, at the high rate of five per cent.; but at the end of that time he would grant the land in perpetuity, at more than one half of its full value—that is, he would add to the five per cent. interest, half the difference between that interest and a full rent. [P. 35.] We would most gladly accept this plan, had we no hope of any better; it would secure to the cultivator the inestimable benefit of a property in the soil, subject to a fixed burthen, which would still be only equivalent to a moderate land-tax. All the effects of such a plan would be good, but they would not be sufficiently large, nor, above all, sufficiently rapid. The homoeopathic system will not do for acting on the masses; you cannot cure the moral maladies of a whole labouring people by infinitesimal remedies. We want something which will stir the minds of the peasantry from one end of Ireland to the other, and cause a rush of all the active spirits to take advantage of the boon for the first time proffered to them. We want something which may be regarded as a great act of national justice—healing the wounds of centuries by giving, not selling, to the worthiest and most aspiring sons of the soil, the unused portion of the inheritance of their conquered ancestors. We want, especially, something which cannot be understood or represented as a mere pecuniary speculation for the profit of the revenue. We want England to have the credit of doing something in love to Ireland, or in duty to her, and not that of making her very beneficence subservient to extracting more gain from a soil, her title to which, until confirmed by the lapse of ages, was no other than that of usurpation and conquest. We, therefore, wish the new proprietary to have the benefit of whatever the State can do for them at the price it costs to the State. And in testimony to the moral effect which may be expected, we need only quote one short passage more from Mr. Blacker:
I maintain that there is, generally speaking, no want of industry, if you let the advantage of exertion be clearly seen, of which I have had repeated proofs. . . . The spirit of industry which will arise with the first appearance of being put in the way of bettering their situation, will be sufficient to astonish any person who has not had experience of what such a change of measures will produce. In this respect I can speak from personal knowledge.
And of personal knowledge few Irishmen have more than Mr. Blacker, or have used it to better purpose.
[1 ]In No. 312.
[2 ]The Royal Dublin Society (founded in 1731 as the Dublin Society for Improving Husbandry, Manufactures, and Other Useful Arts) promoted agricultural and manufacturing development through prizes and awards.
[3 ]The Ordnance Survey of Ireland began in 1824 and ended in 1846; the first of the resulting sheets appeared in 1833, and the series was completed in 1847. For the Reports of the Bog Commissioners (appointed under 49 George III, c. 102 ), see PP, 1810, X, 389-458; 1810-11, VI, 579-817; 1813-14, VI.i, 1-166; and 1813-14, VI.ii, 167-463.