Front Page Titles (by Subject) 326.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 11 NOV., 1846, P. 4 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III
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326.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 11 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).
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THE CONDITION OF IRELAND 
This article continues the controversy over Scrope’s proposals for a poor law for Ireland. Scrope replied to Mill’s article of 3 Nov. (No. 322) in a letter to the editor headed “Poor Laws in Ireland,” Morning Chronicle, 9 Nov., p. 6, from which Mill’s quotations here are taken. For the context, see No. 306. This unheaded first leader is described in Mill’s bibliography as “An eighteenth leading article on Irish affairs, in the Morning Chronicle of 11th Nov. 1846”
(MacMinn, p. 63).
our paper of monday contained a temperate and courteous letter from Mr. Poulett Scrope, expostulating with us upon our conscientious opposition to the scheme in which he puts his chief trust for the improvement of Ireland—the extension to her of what he now terms “the English” Poor-law. We wish to do all justice to Mr. Scrope. Ireland is really indebted to him, not only for the zeal with which he has urged her general claims upon the active good offices of England for removing a state of social and economical evil which it is a disgrace to tolerate, but also for his having identified himself with a measure of greater remedial efficacy, both economical and moral, than any other thing capable of such easy accomplishment—the apportionment of the enormous extent of waste land among peasant proprietors. On this topic we have rendered the deserved honour to Mr. Scrope. We have acknowledged that his advocacy of that important measure preceded ours;1 and we are not aware of having given ground for the complaint which he mildly prefers against us, of eulogising Mr. Blacker and Mr. Thornton at his expense, on points in which their plans were completely identical with his own. To the identity of the main features we have always willingly borne testimony:2 the preference we gave to Mr. Blacker had relation only to a matter of detail (not, however, unimportant in principle), on which we had previously commented as the vulnerable point in Mr. Scrope’s practical arrangements. His scheme provides that the State should build cottages for those whom it locates on the lands: Mr. Blacker, more wisely in our opinion, recommends that the State should limit its assistance to the means and appliances3 of cultivation, leaving whatever directly concerns the labourer’s comforts to the labourer’s own care.
To come, however, to the principal topic of the letter. Mr. Scrope regards the bestowing of the waste lands upon the peasantry not so much in the light of a great measure of national relief in itself, either by its direct operation, or by the gradual influence on the minds of the peasantry of the social state which would arise from it; but rather as a “necessary and most appropriate auxiliary and supplement to our improved poor-law.” He blames us for advocating the one measure only, instead of two schemes, which, “far from there being any necessary antagonism between” them, “are suited admirably to aid and advance one another;” and he calls upon us to abandon what he terms “a vain and ungenerous struggle to protract the denial to the Irish poor of a legislative provision in the extremity of want.”
We must pause for a moment to notice the flagrant injustice of this appeal ad invidiam, whether as affecting ourselves or the Legislature. The Irish have “a legislative provision in the extremity of want.” They have already a Poor Law, which, if it does not recognise the absolute right to relief that exists in England, undertakes however to make provision for “the extremity of want” in all ordinary cases, and the State, as we see in extraordinary cases, comes forward with supplementary resources pro hâc vice.4 Neither, if the Irish pauper system were ever so defective, would it be any argument against us. We offer them better than a pauper system. We propose to them something preferable to parish pay. Instead of an allowance, we give them land; instead of working for the parish, we set them to work for themselves. It is as plain as figures can make it, that land can be found for more than the whole surplus population, and it is as certain as testimony can make it, that this land is of as good a quality as much of that already under tillage. We do not promise to give land to everybody; but neither, we suppose, are poor rates promised to everybody. We undertake to establish in the honourable and independent position of proprietors of the soil so large a portion of the peasantry, that the remainder shall neither be in need of land nor of poor rate, but shall find steady employment at ample wages on the estates of the present landholders. Upon us therefore, at least, Mr. Scrope’s imputations fall innocuous.
In attempting to show that the waste-lands plan and the poor-law plan are calculated to smooth the way for one another, Mr. Scrope, as it appears to us, succeeds in one-half of what he undertakes. He shows, what scarcely needed showing, that the success of the waste-lands plan “would remove many of the most formidable difficulties in the way of an extended poor-law.” Of course his poor-law would not be so immediately or so certainly fatal if the present vast superfluity of those who would be claimants on its bounties were drafted off before it arrived. If anything could give the Irish a chance of bearing unharmed the effects of a pauperizing poor-law, it would be to thoroughly dispauperize them first. We may therefore fairly call upon Mr. Scrope, in the name of his own argument, to put his poor-law in abeyance until this preliminary measure is carried. Without the preliminary measure the poor-law, as he seems to admit, would never answer; while the preliminary measure, pushed with sufficient vigour, might possibly suffice as a final measure, and leave no blameless destitution for a poor-law to relieve.
But while the waste-lands location would either supersede the proposed poor-law by doing far more than what a poor-law is designed to do, or, if it failed in this, would, on Mr. Scrope’s own showing, make the field clearer both for obtaining a more extensive poor-law and for its success; he altogether fails to show that by enacting the poor-law we should at all facilitate the other measure. How should we? Will it perhaps be said, that plans for enabling the poor to provide for themselves would find more favour with the landlords if the alternative was their providing for them? Truly an excellent device, and very like reaching Paris by way of Constantinople. If you first succeed in persuading or compelling the landlords to support the poor out of their own pockets, you cannot imagine how readily you will get their consent to its being done in another way which costs them nothing. We are thankful for the advice; but, in the first place, their consent is not wanted; and in the next, to obtain it in that way is leaping a five-barred gate to save a turnstile.
Instead of facilitating, we are convinced that Mr. Scrope’s poor-law would raise an almost insuperable obstacle to his plan of waste-land location, or to any plan whatever for elevating the Irish poor by means of their own industry. What is Mr. Scrope’s poor-law? To call it, as he does, “the English Poor-law,” is playing upon words. He is not thinking of the amended English law, the abused and calumniated New Poor-law. He means no law grounded on the principle of making parish relief less acceptable than the wages of independent labour. He means an ideal poor-law of his own, on the basis of the statute of Elizabeth, and of which the main principle is out-door relief by employment on public works. Mr. Scrope well knows that in Ireland, as it now is, such relief and employment cannot possibly be so given as not to be greatly more desirable than the wages of work done for individuals. The consequence would be that all private industry in Ireland would cease. At this very time Irish labourers are leaving regular employment at high wages in Scotland, and returning to Ireland to apply for the lower wages paid by the Board of Works. They prefer lower wages, in return for work which they perfectly well know to be, comparatively speaking, almost nominal. In this small fact, and hundreds similar to it, Mr. Scrope may read the certain effect of his favourite poor-law.
If Mr. Scrope could be satisfied with the extension to Ireland of the only part of the reformed English system which she does not already possess—the recognition of a legal right in the destitute to relief, accompanying that right with such conditions as should prevent it from being claimed but by those to whom it is really indispensable5 —our opinion would not be so fundamentally at variance with his. We approve of this principle in the English system; its practicability and safety, long contested by eminent political economists, were, in our opinion, finally established by the Report of the English Commissioners of Poor-law Inquiry in 1834;6 and we should be very willing to entertain the question of extending it to Ireland, supposing the Irish to be first dispauperized and in full employment under an improved economical system, and at a time more favourable than the present to the rational consideration of such questions. But any kind of poor-law extension, even when in itself of a harmless nature, is one of the most delicate operations in the art of government, requiring all the preparation, caution, and scientific skill which befit those who tamper with the most vital organs of the body politic, the main springs of well-being and well-doing in the bulk of the population. Such things are most unfit to be attempted at a time when those at whose instigation chiefly they would be undertaken make a merit of defying every principle of reason applicable to the subject. At the present moment the actuating force in whatever was done would be a combination of two elements: a blind impulse of feeling which calls itself humanity, the cheap humanity which relieves distress, not by giving, but by making others give; and a sort of new-light Toryism,7 which would willingly gain a fresh lease of social pre-eminence for the aristocracy and squirearchy by making the working classes once more their serfs and dependents in the form of parish paupers.
[1 ]See No. 316.
[2 ]See No. 321.
[3 ]Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part II, III, i, 29; in The Riverside Shakespeare, p. 902.
[4 ]For an explanation of this term as justifying state intervention on special occasions, see No. 57.
[5 ]By Sect. 54 of the Poor Law of 1834 (4 & 5 William IV, c. 76).
[6 ]For Mill’s opinion, see Nos. 239 and 240.
[7 ]For the origin of “new light,” see No. 42, n4.