Front Page Titles (by Subject) 345.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 19 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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345.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 19 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 
In continuation of his debate with Mill (see No. 316), Scrope had replied to No. 341 in a letter to the editor (14 Dec., 1846), Morning Chronicle, 18 Dec., p. 3, from which the quotations are taken. For the context of the series, see No. 306. This unheaded leader is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A thirty fifth leading article on Irish affairs, in the Morning Chronicle of 19th Decemb. 1846 (the third leader)”
(MacMinn, p. 65).
in yesterday’s morning chronicle we inserted another letter addressed to us by Mr. Poulett Scrope, as a rejoinder to our reply to his last letter. There is so much of good intention in Mr. Scrope, and so much more serious an attempt than usual with his compeers to meet the objections to his scheme on argumentative ground, that we do not grudge him the compliment of a further prolongation of controversy. His reasons, too, are more like reasons than those we usually meet with, and in combating them we have the satisfaction of contending with the best that has been said, or we believe can be said for his cause.
Mr. Scrope in this letter keeps close to the subject, and states succinctly and clearly, and in due concatenation, the grounds of his opinion. This is what an opponent who is a sincere lover of truth must desire. It is the way to show to the reader, and to Mr. Scrope himself, how far he is answered, or whether he is answered or not, and it enables the answerers to know, and to make known, to what extent they perhaps agree with him in his premises, however widely they differ from his conclusion.
Mr. Scrope says, that “in order to civilise Ireland”—to put a stop to the “universal spirit of combination against the law”—it is necessary to secure the people “from the risk of perishing through want, and to impress their minds with the conviction of such security being certain and accessible.” This is also necessary for putting “an end to that universal mendicancy and vagrancy which is at least as heavy a tax as a well-administered poor-rate.” To do this “you must give a right to relief in destitution.”
In all this, except the concluding sentence, we entirely agree. We have never thought that Ireland could be civilised without, as a part of the process, not only securing the people against perishing from want, but also making them feel themselves to be secure against it. Unless this security can be afforded, the peasantry will continue, even if the potato famine subside, to revolve in the wretched round of poverty and recklessness, recklessness and poverty. To give them any chance of regeneration they must have food and employment; but it is not necessary that they should have a right to food and employment. They must be enabled to earn it, but not empowered to demand it. Strange that it should be so difficult to seize the distinction between these two things. Is it not the testimony of experience in all branches of human affairs (while human nature is what it is, in its ordinary specimens), that men never trouble themselves to earn what they are able to demand? Is not this true, not of money only, but of all things else which human beings claim from one another? Is it not the source of most of the crime and all the tyranny which exist in the world, and of the greater part of the difficulty experienced in governing mankind?
It may be said, perhaps, by Mr. Scrope, that conjointly with remedial measures, and while doing everything in our power to raise up for the people an abundance of food and the amplest field of employment, we must also, to complete the impression on their minds, afford an assurance, not inferential but positive, of a sufficient maintenance. To which we reply, that to give them such an assurance in the present state of their minds is certain to render any and every remedial measure inoperative. No measure calculated to be of use to Ireland has a chance of effect unless the exertions of the people are called forth with considerable intensity to co-operate with it. With their present habits, the only motive which is found sufficient to produce any real exertion, and that not always, is the fear of destitution. From that fear it is proposed permanently to relieve them. What other motive is to be provided? It must be force; for reason and experience are equally against the wild idea that even a much more industrious people than the Irish will work with any efficacy for employers who are not permitted to dismiss them, unless it be like slaves, under compulsion, and if that is to be the resource, it is good to bethink ourselves, in the first instance, whether we can compel them to be compelled.
What the Irish need, and unless it can be given them their case is desperate, is a reasonable assurance of finding support by earnestly seeking it, not a guarantee that it will be provided for them unsought. If we might be permitted to look forward to a time when this work of benevolence and duty should have been accomplished, and a generation of Irish people should have grown up under its influence—when the peasant shall have learnt to look to himself for support, with a well-grounded confidence of always finding it—then, to provide for accidental cases of distress, there would not necessarily be the same objection to a compulsory poor-law. When the Irish shall have become what the English were during the century and a half in which the Elizabethan poor-law worked well, they will be capable of bearing an Elizabethan poor-law.
But then it must be the Elizabethan law as it was, and not as it probably would be. It must be the poor-law as practically modified by its administration. It is a known fact, that until near the end of the eighteenth century the provisions of the law were administered with extreme rigidity; that every effort was used by the magistrates and gentry to prevent the rates from increasing, and the population from multiplying, which accordingly increased very slowly; that the landowners not only systematically discouraged the building of cottages, but pulled down many, and even whole villages disappeared in the manner commemorated and lamented in Goldsmith’s poem.1 As soon as this rigid system was discontinued, pauperism and poverty came in apace, and less than half a century brought us to 1834. It was not, as Mr. Scrope seems to think, only or chiefly the allowances in aid of wages which acted thus disastrously; it was that, together with the relaxed system of relief to the able-bodied generally, whether by parish works or the roundsman and labour-rate system. Even now, under an enactment expressly designed to correct these evils, the clamour of the agitators has been so successful in weakening the law, and destroying the influence of those whose duty it is to enforce it, that it is not, in any effectual manner, enforced, and the poor-rates, in a highly prosperous state of the country, have again increased for the last few years with alarming rapidity. Is it Mr. Scrope’s opinion that the rigid practice of the last century would be adopted in Ireland? Is it, even, his intention?
There is now but one argument of Mr. Scrope which we have not answered, either in the present or in former articles, and this is, that the Irish are already pauperized. They are already as miserable, as averse to industry, and as reckless in multiplying their numbers as they could possibly be made, and nothing we can do will make them worse. We must absolutely protest against this, as it appears to us, unworthy mode of treating the question. Not merely because the fact is not so; not merely because almost all Ulster, and parts of the other three provinces, still remain to be degraded to the condition which Mr. Scrope argues upon as consummated; not merely because, if the peasants already multiply recklessly, that is no reason for making a margin for them to multiply farther, until they starve down all other people to the level of themselves. Not for these only, but for more comprehensive reasons. Because Ireland is so wretched, because we have thus neglected our duty to her, is she therefore to be delivered up for an experimentum in corpore vili, to a treatment of which, on every principle of reason, the effect must be to render all her maladies incurable? If Mr. Scrope could have said the direct contrary of what he has said; if he could have said the Irish are laborious, self-relying, proudly independent, they will never choose to live on alms, they will never consent to depend on parish pay, they are a people whom you cannot pauperize, we could have understood then, though we should have thought the doctrine a short-sighted one, that it might have been urged that even a bad poor-law would be innocuous. But on Mr. Scrope’s way of arguing, it would be a good reason for plying a man with brandy because he is already dead drunk, or administering arsenic because he has been poisoned, or amputating a limb because it is paralysed, or putting out an eye because it has a cataract, or any other folly which would at once aggravate the malady, and close the door on any possibility of cure. He prescribes, not homoeopathic but monster doses of the very thing which caused the disease.
That even in the lowest deep there would be found a lower deep into which Ireland can still be plunged, and also that after every reasonable abatement the phenomena of the existing crisis still afford a strong experimental confirmation of all that we have pointed out, is the conviction of many good judges besides ourselves. The following is an instructive paragraph from the Northern Whig:
As a mode of escape or relief from present difficulties, there is a tendency to press upon us a new poor-law—one which would give claimants a right to relief, and which would secure out-door support when apparently necessary. . . . Surely it is enough to refer to the present mighty rush of pauperism—of determined pauperism—to awaken any one to a sense of the tremendous peril of a system of the kind alluded to. Government proposed a plan of aid which involved low wages—a plan designed to render the work unpopular; but such a shout was raised, and so great was the pressure, that strict prudence became impracticable. Then followed liberal wages (as times go here) with quarter work—pauperism, in fact; and behold, we have crowding multitudes eager for the government wages and idleness, and ready to let Ireland become a barren waste, for aught they care. Give us such a poor-law as we have referred to, and what would be the consequence? Its dire extent we can hardly attempt to conjecture; but that degradation which we have as yet seen nothing to match, and wasting and blasting idleness and recklessness to which heretofore nothing in Ireland could furnish a parallel, would ensue, is a state of things as clear, from such a system, as any anticipated event, however clear, could possibly be.2
[1 ]Goldsmith, The Deserted Village (1770).
[2 ]“Landlords and the Poor—A New Poor-Law for Ireland,” Northern Whig (Belfast), 15 Dec., 1846, p. 2.