Front Page Titles (by Subject) 349.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 26 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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349.: THE CONDITION OF IRELAND  MORNING CHRONICLE, 26 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 
For the context, see No. 306. This unheaded first leader is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A thirty ninth leading article on Irish affairs, in the Morning Chronicle of 26th December 1846”
(MacMinn, p. 66).
among the questions which present themselves in framing a scheme for the location of peasant proprietors on the waste lands, there is none on which there is likely to be greater diversity of opinion than on the size of the allotments. The question is not without its difficulties. Excess on either side is attended with serious inconveniences; and no unvarying standard can be applied to so many diversities of soil and situation. Much consideration, under the guidance of local knowledge and practical experience, is requisite for steering skilfully between the two extremes; and it does not belong to us to decide the question. It may be possible, however, to give some indication of the general principles which should be kept in view in its decision.
We think that each estate should be of a size fully to occupy, and at the same time (after payment of the quit-rent) amply to remunerate the vigorous and well-directed industry of a single family. We see strong objections to fixing the average extent either below or above this standard. The portion of land should neither be so extensive as to require the aid of hired labour, unless in an occasional emergency, nor so small as to leave any part of the proprietor’s time on his hands which his little estate cannot beneficially occupy.
The disadvantages of making the portions too small are more apparent at first sight, and are likely, in this country at least, to be more generally appreciated than those of making them too large. They are indeed very obvious. A property not sufficient to maintain the proprietor and his family would leave them still dependent on the labour market, and would fail to create the feelings of security and independence which distinguish the proprietor from the hired labourer. A property sufficient for absolute necessaries, but not adequate for comforts, would miss the grand object of raising the peasant’s mode of living and standard of requirement. Affording too, as it would, these mere necessaries at a much less expense of labour and perseverance than may justly be annexed as a condition to the boon of being made a proprietor, it would do little towards correcting habits of listlessness and semi-idleness. The chief complaint of Arthur Young respecting the métayers and the very small proprietors in France before the Revolution, related to the great quantity of idle time they had on their hands.1 In some states of territorial economy and of the habits of the labouring class, these considerations would not have so much weight. Where large farms are so intermixed with small that employment for hire is within easy reach of every peasant, where the numbers of the people are not disproportioned to the amount of employment, and their standard of living is tolerably high—conditions realised in several parts of the Continent—the peasant may have the security and satisfaction of calling a piece of land his own, on which he can fall back for mere subsistence in case of need, without relaxing his exertions to obtain additional comforts, or acquire the means of saving, by labour for hire. It is scarcely necessary to say that the condition of Ireland is totally different. Allotments barely sufficient to afford potatoes would leave the people what they have hitherto been, contented and apathetic, with no wants beyond a meal of potatoes, a hovel, and rags.
But the objections are almost as strong to making the portions so large as to require the habitual aid of hired labour for their cultivation. In the first place, it is a sufficient objection, that if the estates are larger than necessary, the valuable class of yeomanry which it is designed to create are proportionally reduced in numbers. With an average extent of twenty acres, we are brought down to, at most, the “seventy-five thousand families” of the Repeal Association;2 and this, though no inconsiderable number, is not sufficient to clear off the surplus from the old lands, and abolish the cottier system. But, further, the effect of small landed properties in raising the character of a peasantry does not consist wholly or principally in their effect on the proprietors, but still more in the effect on those who may become proprietors. The estates, then, should not be of such a size, and when improved of such a value, as would place them too high above the aspirations of the mere labourer. He should be permitted to feel that by a degree of exertion and economy, not beyond what is possible even to him, he may hope one day to possess himself of one of these farms, and leave it as a property to his children. But, further, the peasants who would become proprietors of estates averaging twenty acres would be of the class now called small farmers, and it is already the habit of this class, when they employ labourers, to pay the wages in land; nor have they, in general, sufficient pecuniary resources to make the payment otherwise. If the new proprietors, having more land than they could themselves cultivate, called in the aid of hired labourers, it would be impossible to prevent them from paying those labourers in the way to which they are accustomed, by conacre; that is, by a patch of land on which the labourer grows his own food, and for which he is debited with a rent which he works out in labour. It is by no means clear that conacre (as has been asserted) would perish with the potato,3 and it is not only not clear, but not at all probable that the potato has perished. To give land, therefore, of such an extent as to require hired labour, which labour would be paid with part of the land, is not to prevent sub-division, but to cause it, and that too in the very worst way. It is to share the land between one proprietor and one or more conacre-men, when it might be shared among the same number of proprietors. If it be said that this kind of sub-letting might be prevented, we answer that we do not think it could; but that, if so, it could only be by making it impossible for the proprietor to obtain hired labour at all; for to refuse him the power of paying for it in the only thing he has to bestow is a tolerably effectual prohibition. It is better surely to withhold the land, than to give it and deny the means of cultivating it. Nor is there anything gained by making it necessary for him to have hired labour, even supposing that he could pay for it. There is no use in having a class of labourers for hire, scattered singly or by twos or threes over a large district. The advantage of hired labour is the facility it affords for combined action, and the practice of industrial operations on a large scale. For every object which can be attained by the existence of peasant proprietors, holdings which they can cultivate without hired assistance are sufficient; nor between this and farming by large capitals, in the manner of Scotland and Northumberland, is there any reasonable medium. Either a large net produce, or a superior class of peasantry, should be the object. We should not hesitate a moment which to choose; but whichever is chosen, let it by all means be pursued effectually.
[1 ]Young, Travels, Vol. I, pp. 415-16.
[2 ]For the basis of the estimate see No. 342, n2.
[3 ]A resolution passed at the meeting in Dungarvon (discussed in No. 331) included the comment that “the conacre system has perished along with the potato that gave it birth.” See the letter from the Irish Correspondent (18 Nov., 1846), The Times, 20 Nov., p. 5.