Front Page Titles (by Subject) 341.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 12 DEC., 1846, P. 4 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III
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341.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 12 DEC., 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 continues his controversy with Scrope (see No. 316), answering Scrope’s letter to the editor (9 Dec., 1846), Morning Chronicle, 11 Dec., p. 6, from which the quotations are taken. For the context of the series, see No. 306. This unheaded first leader is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A thirty first leading article on Irish affairs, in the Morning Chronicle of 12th December 1846 (peasant proprietors)”
(MacMinn, p. 65).
in a letter which we have published, Mr. Poulett Scrope takes up what he calls our challenge to the advocates of his Irish Poor-law, “to show in what particular it differs from the wasteful system of public employment at present carried on under the Labour-rate Act.”1
It is really a pleasure, and one to which we have not been much accustomed, to find anybody on Mr. Scrope’s side of the question who condescends to argue, or to reply to arguments. Gentlemen of that way of thinking, when they see a fact or a piece of obvious truth standing across their path, seldom do it the honour of attempting to move it away. They give the go-by to it; they sneak past it, and leave it behind them, affecting not to see it; and look big when it is fairly out of sight. We expected better from Mr. Scrope; nor are we disappointed. With him it is at least a contest of reason against reason. One who attempts to parry argument, shows himself not invulnerable to it. If he is wrong, there is always hope of setting him right.
First, however, we must repel from ourselves Mr. Scrope’s accusation of attacking the poor-law scheme for the purpose of setting up a favourite project in its place, meaning the location of the peasantry on the waste lands, which, however, is as much Mr. Scrope’s project as our own. Our advocacy of waste lands colonisation is quite unconnected with our opposition to an extended poor-law, to which we should be as inveterately hostile if there were not an acre of waste land in Ireland. We rejoice cordially that we have something to propose which may raise a part of the Irish peasantry into proprietors; but if we had not, we should not think it any reason for supporting what would lower them all into beggars or buccaneers. And we persist in seeing, in the effects of the present attempt to patch up a sort of tumultuary poor-law for a passing emergency, a foretaste of what would come to pass if those who agree with Mr. Scrope could succeed in converting the temporary expedient into a permanent institution. For neither Mr. Scrope nor any one else can deny that it is the very same expedient. All they can do, and all that Mr. Scrope does in his letter, is to promise, that when they are not in so great a hurry they will pauperize Ireland more carefully, and by a better machinery. The machinery, indeed, is bad enough, and the hurry is the only excuse for it. But the grand evil is, being pauperized at all.
“A methodical, orderly system of public works,” consisting of “drainage or embankment, waste lands reclamations, home colonies, a national system of railways, new fishing quays, harbours of defence or refuge,” &c., is what Mr. Scrope contemplates, and apparently as a permanent measure. This differs very much, he says, from “the lowering of harmless hills, or making roads to lead nowhere.” It does differ; we never said it did not. It differs in being useful instead of useless; it differs in being productive instead of unproductive; it differs in having a chance, if honestly and skilfully managed (no easy matter in Ireland), of repaying a part at least of its expense. But does it differ in what is ten times more important than all this—in the effect on the people’s minds? Does it make any difference to that, what the work is for? The only thing the people think of or care about is the offer of wages. As yet we have not gone the length Mr. Scrope is anxious to go, of promising them wages. We have guaranteed nothing; we have only given, and to a part only of the applicants. Yet already all other employment is abandoned. Accounts, every day more formidable, describe the fields unsown, and the farmers justifying themselves on the plea that if there were any crop the labourers would seize it for food, or the landlord for arrears of rent. Those who should plough or sow prefer government wages, for which (vide an extract of a letter in our Thursday’s paper)2 they give work not worth more than threepence a day, receiving tenpence, and with these wages, or the rent withheld from their landlords, they buy arms. The wages bestowed in charity they already look upon as a right, and what the Irish peasant considers his right, he enforces by a penal code of his own; already the officers of the Board of Works are assaulted and fired at for withholding employment. The Whiteboy and Rock system, which has been so successful as a defensive operation, begins to be used offensively. Death is becoming the penalty, not merely of ejecting a peasant from land, but of not paying him wages in addition. Is there any one who can be otherwise than appalled at such a prospect? Is there any one, not wedded to the idea by previous prejudice, who can calmly propose to make that a right which it is so terrible a thing that these misguided creatures should be even beginning to consider as one?
One thing, at least, is now clear, that the Government which adopts this proposal, if it wishes the cultivation of the soil to be continued, must prepare to take the farming of all Ireland into its own hands. Already a cry has been raised, and re-echoed from Conciliation Hall,3 that since the farmers will not, or cannot, sow their lands, the Government must do it for them. And the Government will have to plough, and weed, and manure, and harrow, and hoe: reaping is the only agricultural operation which it will find the farmers willing to undertake for themselves.
It is Mr. Scrope’s grand argument, and really the thing most like an argument which his view of the subject has yet produced, that the certainty of being saddled with a poor-rate to support the unemployed labourers would incite the landlords to find employment. And so it would; but, alas! where will they find the means of employment? Mr. Scrope himself does not venture to anticipate such a consummation, except by means of “Government loans” to the landlords, “overriding mortgages and other incumbrances;” so that the Government, after all, is to find the means, only using the landlords as the dispensers of them. But grant that the landlords could and would, under this new stimulus, employ the people, not one iota would this subtract from the evil. Compulsory employment is compulsory employment, whether the Government or the landlords are required to find it. The thing which is altogether fatal, the evil which no words can exaggerate and no precautions assuage, is that the people should be told that there is somebody with an unlimited fund who must find wages for them, let what will happen. Imagine the whole able-bodied population of Ireland billeted on the Government, or on the landlords, it is of no consequence which, as their forced stipendiaries; and as for work, remember the sort of work the English farmer obtained from the paupers who used to be quartered upon him under the old labour rate—and then figure a set of so-called work people, as much more inefficient and as much more unmanageable than even these, as a Munster peasant exceeds in indolence, self-will, and lawlessness a Norfolk or Sussex clodhopper. Mr. Senior was within the mark when he said that the demoralization which in England it had taken a bad poor-law two centuries to accomplish, would in Ireland be completed in five years.4 We tremble lest in as many months it should be already consummated. There is but one thing we can do which can make the state of Ireland worse, and by that it would be made incurable, unless by the miserable chances of civil war and confiscation. That one thing is, the perpetuation, or even the much longer continuance, of eleemosynary employment.
[1 ]The Labour Rate Act was 9 & 10 Victoria, c. 107 (1846).
[2 ]“Ireland. County of Galway,” Morning Chronicle, 10 Dec., 1846, p. 6, which quotes a private letter from a clergyman to the Evening Post.
[3 ]Located on Burgh Quay, Dublin, the Hall was the headquarters of the Repeal Association.
[4 ]Senior, “Letter to Principal Secretary of State for the Home Department, on the Third Report from the Commissioners for Inquiry into the Condition of the Poor in Ireland” (14 Apr., 1836), PP, 1837, LI, 250-1.