Front Page Titles (by Subject) 347.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 23 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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347.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 23 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 
Continuing the discussion with Scrope on Irish waste lands (see No. 316), Mill quotes from the “Postscript” to Scrope’s How Is Ireland to Be Governed?, 2nd ed. (London: Ridgway, 1846), pp. 40-66, which had been added since the 1st ed. (London: Ridgway, 1834). For the context of the series, see No. 306. This unheaded first leader is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A thirty seventh leading article on Irish affairs, in the Morning Chronicle of 23d Dec. 1846”
(MacMinn, p. 66).
the two preliminary questions respecting Irish waste lands may, we conceive, be looked upon as decided. That their reclamation shall be undertaken on a large scale by the State is commanded by the necessity of the case. Since the State has at any rate to provide support, during months to come, for a large proportion of the whole Irish people, there must be found for them such work as will best repay the outlay, and afford security against the recurrence of a similar necessity hereafter. A second question, we believe, may now also be regarded as a question no longer. When the lands are reclaimed, it will not be to give them back to the landlords. That brilliant idea has been hooted out of court. We doubt if there will be found a landlord courageous enough to divide the House upon it.
Discussion therefore may now concentrate itself on the subsequent question—what to do with the lands when reclaimed. Substantially there are but two things which can be done with them. They must either be given to the people, or made the most of as the property of the State. Doubtless there are more ways than one of doing either of these things, and a mixed course also is possible. The land may be granted to a select body of the peasant class in free gift. This, however, is proposed by nobody. It may be granted at a quit-rent sufficient to pay the interest of the expenses, with or without a further payment to redeem the principal. It may be leased in perpetuity at a rent more than adequate to these purposes, but not amounting to a rack-rent. It may be let for a term, either in the Irish or in the English mode. Or, finally, it may be sold outright for the profit of the State. The choice among all these modes of disposing of the land will depend upon the opinion entertained of the comparative importance of the different purposes in view. If any value is attached to the creation of a superior class of peasantry, as a model and an object of emulation to the rest, some one of the plans first mentioned will probably be adopted. If it be thought of any importance to make the British Government popular with the Irish peasantry; to confer on a class who have experienced so little of its benefits a favour which even they can appreciate, and to avoid the appearance of making a profitable concern of our philanthropy; nothing more will be sought, as an equivalent for the land, than repayment of the expenses incurred for purchasing and reclaiming it. But if all that is cared for be to meet the emergency for the present, and improve the productive resources of Ireland for the future, getting at the same time as much money as possible for the State, to be applied to the repayment of the large sums it will have expended from first to last on Irish destitution, the natural expedient is to sell the lands for the most which they will bring.
This course has, however, been advocated by persons sincerely impressed with the importance of waste lands colonization as a means of creating a peasant proprietary. Mr. Scrope, for instance, in his pamphlet, How is Ireland to be Governed? of which all the part relating to waste lands is highly interesting and valuable, gives his countenance to this among other modes of accomplishing the object:
My proposal is, [says Mr. Scrope,] that the State should, through the medium of the Board of Works, purchase at their present value such portions of the waste lands of Ireland, in masses of not less than 500 or 1,000 acres lying together as may be required; that these should be by the same board opened up, by roads, main drains, and any other improvements the board thinks desirable, and then divided into small farms of from five to fifty acres, and offered in the open market for sale, with a clear title in fee, or let on perpetuity leases at a fixed quit rent, sufficient, at least, to pay all expenses. I believe by such a measure we might in a very few years locate on these barren wastes some hundreds of thousands of industrious landowners.
Mr. Scrope computes that every acre reclaimed will at the utmost have cost the Board of Works £10, and that being in a state worth from £1 to £2 per acre rent, it will sell for at least £20 on the average, yielding to the Government a profit of cent. per cent.; a most promising pecuniary speculation. [P. 56.] But how is this reconcileable with Mr. Scrope’s other object, the creation of a peasant proprietary? He has an answer for this too. We will give it in his own words:
Some persons may doubt whether purchasers will be found for the small farms. Few, however, who know Ireland well, are unacquainted with the fact that there is a vast amount of money in the possession of farmers already in Ireland, some concealed in old stockings, some in the thatch of their houses, but much invested in savings’ banks. In the Savings’ Bank of Cork, for example, there is no less than £200,000, the property of farmers, averaging £34 a piece, therefore belonging to 6,000 persons in number. The same is true of very many other parts of Ireland. The sum remitted from Ireland to England annually for investment in the English funds is very large, and these unprofitable investments paying but a very low rate of interest, are made only because no opportunity offers for the purchase of land at home, on which the savings and the industry of the farmers may be employed with the certainty of reaping its entire fruits. . . . No one can doubt that purchasers will be forthcoming, who knows that there are plenty to give £10 per acre for the mere good-will of farms held on will at a high rent.
This last observation refers to the Ulster tenant-right, and to the high price given for a perpetuity of tenure and limitation of rent, guaranteed, not by contract, but by the fear of being fired at.1
The facts stated respecting the hoards possessed by Irish farmers are highly important to the question in hand, because they supply one leading condition of the beneficial operation of the plan—a means of sifting, as it were, the peasant class, and trying the experiment of small properties with a set of proprietors the best adapted for it. If the possessors of these hoards are indeed small farmers—if they are actual cottiers, and not of that class of middling and large tenant-farmers who do, though sparingly, exist even in the South of Ireland—no one will doubt that cottiers who in the unfavourable circumstances of their situation have actually saved and laid by such considerable sums of money, have the very first claim on any boon which is conferred on industry and economy, and are the persons in whose hands the boon will most prosper. We should not hesitate therefore to give the preference in the assignment of the reclaimed lands to those farmers who could repay at once the whole expense incurred for the reclamation. This would not only be a valuable feature of the plan, but might be even essential to its complete success.
We would stop here, however. The reasons seem to us unanswerable against selling the reclaimed lands to the highest bidder. We do not say that even in that case no good would be done; it would scarcely be possible to reclaim so much land, and distribute it among a new class of owners, absolutely without any public benefit. But we are strongly of opinion that the benefit would be comparatively trifling, and that the persons benefited would not be the peasantry of Ireland. This is apparent from Mr. Scrope’s own data.
Of 6,000 farmers who have deposits in the Cork Savings’ Bank, the average deposit, according to Mr. Scrope, is £34. It is not likely that those who have deposits in the savings’ bank have also hoards, or that any have hoards exceeding this amount. We may then assume £34 as the largest amount which any considerable number of Munster peasants could invest in land. How far would this go, at Mr. Scrope’s estimate of £20 an acre? It would not suffice to buy two acres; and the farms he proposes vary from five to fifty. We have argued that an extent of twenty acres is too high a minimum; but we certainly never thought of reducing it to two. Even two acres bought at that price would drain the peasant, would leave him nothing to buy tools, seed, and manure, or to support his family until the first harvest. If the lands are sold in the manner proposed, they will not be bought by peasants, but by a totally different class—by middlemen, to be leased at rack-rents to cottiers on the present miserable system; or at best by English and Scotch, who may be willing to exchange the state of tenant-farmers in the one island for that of proprietor-farmers in the other. It may be said that the introduction of such people and their capital into Ireland would be a public benefit. Doubtless it would; but not if the new proprietors mainly consisted of such people. It would be senseless to expect any of the moral and social advantages of a yeomanry from a class composed of newly introduced foreigners, more completely separated from the peasantry than even their present landlords; connected with them by no sympathy, having no influence on their minds, and whose position would excite no emulation, because it would have been acquired by no means which it would be in their power to imitate. Unless the new proprietors are Irish peasants, all that part of the scheme is a total failure. If the lands are to be held by English owners, and cultivated by English capital, it is far better that the farms be large, and the processes scientific.
Even supposing that it were deemed practicable and desirable to confine the competition for the new lands to peasants and Irishmen, the plan of selling them by competition would not be less objectionable, while in that case it would, moreover, be illusory. Far from being able to buy a farm of Mr. Scrope’s smallest extent, five acres, at a profit to the State of cent. per cent., very few of the peasantry would be able to pay at once even the £50 which he supposes would simply repay the Government for its expenses. Our plan would be to give at once a grant in fee to every peasant who could repay the whole amount, returning a part of it to him, if necessary, on loan, to provide himself with the means of cultivation. Next to those who could pay all, the preference should be given to those who could pay the largest portion: an equivalent for the balance, and for any necessary advances of funds, being imposed on the land in the form of a fixed quit-rent.
[1 ]Under Ulster tenant-right the tenant could sell his farm to the highest bidder, while eviction was possible only through purchase; land improvements were thereby encouraged and tenants enjoyed greater prosperity. The system was enforced through custom, not law.