Front Page Titles (by Subject) 342.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 15 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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342.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 15 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 
The pamphlet discussed by Mill is that issued by the committee of O’Connell’s Repeal Association, entitled “On the Employment of the Labouring Class.” The quotations are all from this pamphlet, which, unfortunately, has not been located. For the context of the series, see No. 306. This unheaded first leader is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A thirty second leading article on Irish affairs, in the Morning Chronicle of 15th Dec. 1846”
(MacMinn, p. 65).
the repeal association has at last broken ground on the subject of the Irish distress. It is somewhat late in the day, no doubt, for the organ and representative of Irish nationality to be beginning to occupy itself with the question in which, for the last six months, all the immediate and all the permanent interests of Ireland have been summed up. But better late than never; and it is still time for a body of men in that conspicuous position to give the tone to Irish opinion on the subject, and be almost certain of carrying any plan they may support, if it be such as the majority of sensible persons can think it worth while to trouble themselves about. The committee, then, of the Association have presented an elaborate report “On the Employment of the Labouring Class,” and this report may, we suppose, be regarded, until further notice, as expressing the opinions of Mr. O’Connell and the other chiefs of the Association.
The tone of the report is generally commendable. Except one brief passage, not a word from beginning to end gives any indication of the body from which it emanates. With that exception, it seems to come from men who know neither party nor sect at such a time, and who at other times may be Whigs or Conservatives, Orangemen or Repealers. It discusses the subject in a methodical, business-like manner; it bears marks of local knowledge and careful consideration, and contains, on points of detail, suggestions well worthy of the attention which they will no doubt receive from those most concerned. Among other things, it gives reasons which seem to us unanswerable against what the active spirits among the landlords are clamouring for, from one end of Ireland to the other—the substitution of assessment by townlands for assessment by electoral divisions or by baronies. The report does not deny the evil which this change is designed to remedy, namely, that the landlords who relieve and employ the labourers on their own estates have to pay as much towards the general relief fund as those who do nothing of the sort. But against this injustice the report proposes a better remedy—that “every landlord who shall undertake the improvement and reclamation of land by draining, fencing, &c. &c., should be entitled to a remittance of the assessment in proportion to the amount expended by him in such work.” To this we do not see any decisive objection, the proof resting of course with those who claim the remittance, and being sifted, as it ought to be, severely.
But while we see much to praise in this document, compared with most of the other manifestoes which bodies of Irishmen have yet sent forth on this trying occasion, we are compelled to say that it displays only the more strikingly the total want of preparation in men’s minds to deal with a crisis like the present; the want of resource to meet great evils by remedies as great; the utter absence of guiding principles and comprehensive ideas. The committee of the Repeal Association has of course a plan for reclaiming the waste lands; no one who treats the subject of Irish redress can be without one; and the committee’s plan occupies well nigh one-half of their report. The plan is well digested and minute, and embraces everything which we could possibly desire to see done with the waste lands—except to give them to the people! This great popular idea, which a king or minister who wished his name to live in the hearts of the democracy would greedily seize upon, is the one thing in the whole matter which the popular assembly of the country, the collective democracy of Ireland, cannot seize, cannot appreciate. Yes, the Repeal Association of Ireland actually proposes that the land, after being reclaimed, shall be sold by auction, sold by and for the profit of the Saxon Government, rather than given, for a simple repayment of expenses, to the Celtic peasantry! Reason has indeed a poor prospect in the affairs of men, when Irish partisans give up their strongest prejudices to keep in the beaten path, sooner than follow those prejudices into the most promising new track—new at least to them, though approved by the experience of every civilised people in the world, except the inhabitants of the British Isles.
This experiment on the state of the national mind is the more unhappily significant as there is here no landlordism in the case. The committee do not think of giving up the reclaimed land to the landlords. Theirs is no landlord’s scheme. They even propose that those whose estates are relieved by drafting off cottiers to the waste lands, should pay the expense of their removal, and contribute “a further sum for the maintenance for a short time of the cottier, and for contributing to provide him with a cottage.” A reasonable suggestion, though not of sufficient importance to be worth persisting in as an essential feature of the plan. It is not for the sake of the landlords, then, that a property in the land is grudged to those by whose exertions it is to be made valuable. From what consideration it is, we know not. The plan is this: For two years the land is to be occupied rent free. From that time rent is to commence, and to rise gradually to £6 per farm in the sixteenth year, the farm consisting of twenty acres; but this is not to be the maximum, for in twenty-seven or twenty-eight years the rental is to average 10s. an acre. When the whole farm has been brought under cultivation, the tenant is to be “entitled in all cases to a lease of thirty-one years, at a valuation, with a right of renewal.”
Renewal must here mean a lease, not on the same but on a new valuation; for if the rent was not to be raised there could be no motive for not making the lease perpetual. The Repeal Association has made great progress the backward way since 1843. Time was when it did not shrink from the mention of fixity of tenure.
After the tenant has obtained a lease, the land, when the Government is owner in fee, is to be sold by auction, “the occupier having a right of pre-emption” at the auction price. To that length O’Connell and his associates are willing to go; thus much of right they consent to recognise in the industrious peasant over the land which he has changed from waste into fertility. He may keep it, if he pay for it the full value which his labour has given to it. These be thy gods, O Israel!1 If Englishmen have no more generous ideas in Ireland’s behalf than her own chosen leaders, it will fare ill with her in this her extremity.
We say nothing now of a peasant proprietary as a measure of social reform and moral regeneration, a means of abolishing the worst of all forms of landed tenure, and raising up a class of peasantry to be an example and a guiding influence to the rest. We will be silent on all the nobler considerations which we have been labouring daily to inculcate for months past. Since the Association have shut their eyes to those considerations, we must aim lower to have a chance of hitting the mark. And we say, that on the very lowest ground on which the decision can be placed, the committee’s proposition is vastly inferior to ours. They say that the farms should not be of less than twenty acres each, because smaller allotments “would not support the tenants’ families comfortably, enable them to save money, and give trades, or otherwise provide for their children.” But at twenty acres to each family the surface of waste land fit for arable, in Mr. Griffith’s computation, would accommodate only 75,000 families.2 Then, if twenty acres will support a family in prosperous circumstances, consistently with paying a full rent, fifteen, or twelve, or ten will do as much, if all rent beyond the interest of the expenses is foregone. If 75,000 families can be supported comfortably, and enabled to save money on the one system, a hundred, or a hundred and twenty, or a hundred and fifty thousand may receive a similar blessing on the other. That is one consideration, and no small one. Now for another. The committee of course intend that the settlers should work vigorously and with ardour on their allotments; that they should reclaim and fertilize them effectually and quickly; that the produce of the country may be increased not a little, but as much as possible by the scheme of reclamation; and perhaps it is not flattering them too much to suppose them desirous that the cultivators may be even an example to their countrymen of the industrial virtues—not of listlessness and indolence, but of energy and activity. With these objects in view, the encouragement they give to the colonists to put their shoulders to the wheel and do the work rapidly and effectually is, that the sooner it is finished the sooner the land will be sold by auction over their heads, and the more valuable they have made it the higher rent they will have to pay on “valuation” for thirty-one years to come! Everybody must see that the settlement of the waste lands, conducted on such principles, must prove an entire failure. Instead of the zeal and activity which a property in the land, or tenure at a fixed quit-rent would inspire, the settlers then, like the cottiers now, would strive for nothing more than to have enough to supply their daily meal and pay their rent. They would be merely such a peasantry as the Irish have ever been, contented on the brink of starvation; and all things would be as at present, save that there would no longer be, as now, a reserve of improvable waste to bring forth when Ireland’s politicians and legislators shall recognise the duty of civilizing her people, and shall have learnt from the experience of nations how high a rank among civilizing agents belongs to the wide diffusion of property in land.
[1 ]Exodus, 31:8.
[2 ]For Griffith’s evaluation of the usable land in his “Return on the Probable Extent of Waste Lands,” see No. 332. The Repeal Association estimated the necessary land at twenty acres per family, and simple division produces the figure of 75,000.