Front Page Titles (by Subject) 362.: THE PROPOSED IRISH POOR LAW  MORNING CHRONICLE, 19 MAR., 1847, P. 4 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXIV - Newspaper Writings January 1835 - June 1847 Part III
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362.: THE PROPOSED IRISH POOR LAW  MORNING CHRONICLE, 19 MAR., 1847, 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 PROPOSED IRISH POOR LAW 
Continuing the criticism of the Irish poor law begun in No. 361, this unheaded first leader (following the parliamentary report) is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A leading article on the same subject [as the preceding one, No. 361], in the Morning Chronicle of 19th March 1847”
(MacMinn, p. 68).
ever since the notable scheme for rendering the Irish people industrious and provident, by making them pensioners on the landlords, has been taken off the hands of its authors and launched into legislation by the Ministry and Parliament of Great Britain, with an almost unanimity of popular acclamation, we must plead guilty to having so completely forgotten the state of the question six months ago, that it is a sort of surprise to us to find our old correspondent Mr. Poulett Scrope, in a letter in to-day’s Chronicle, still doing duty as champion in the cause, and thinking it incumbent on himself to take up the gauntlet which we threw down, without a single thought of him, in our paper of Wednesday last.1 We are not inclined to revive any discussion with Mr. Scrope on a subject on which we have antagonists so much more powerful, if not in argument, at least in position and influence, than himself; and his opinion that “the Malthusian theory” (whatever, for the moment, he may happen to mean by that term) “is exploded for ever,” and that “Mr. Jenkinson’s cosmogony” was its prototype, shall remain, so far as we are concerned, uncontroverted.2 Events will have spoken for themselves, in a sufficiently loud voice, before many years have passed over the heads of the authors of the new Irish poor-law; to whom their bitterest political enemies could not wish a severer doom than that of being sentenced to execute the law they are about to enact.
They have taken upon themselves to do one of two things; either to make out-door paupers of the whole Irish people, or to announce to them that they may be and ought to be made out-door paupers, and yet attempt in detail to avoid making them so. We should have thought that nothing less than desperation would have induced any men, placed at the head of a nation, to face the consequences of either side of the alternative. Let them not flatter themselves that boards of guardians will long stand between them and the devouring monster that they are raising up. So long as they go on feeding the people from the Imperial Treasury, the guardians, we doubt not, will be true to their post. But on the first attempt to carry the new law really into effect in the parts of Ireland where the poor are most numerous and the rateable income smallest, there will not be found a guardian to vote the poor-rate, or a collector to attempt enforcing it. Government officers must assess, and Government officers collect it: and as the whole rent of the more poverty-stricken counties will probably be absorbed without effectually relieving the people, the comparatively fortunate condition of the north-eastern counties will not long be seen with equanimity, and a vehement clamour will be raised for equalizing the burthen by a national rate. If the Ministers yield to this clamour—and after what they are now doing no amount of yielding to clamour on their part can be considered improbable—the onus of working the poor-law throughout all Ireland will fall directly upon their shoulders. If, on the contrary, they resist, at least the operations in the more distressed districts will fall upon them, either by the absorption of the rateable income of those districts, or by the refusal of the landlords to be the agents of their own ruin. It is on the officers of Government, therefore, that the responsibility will in the end devolve of exercising the discretion reserved by the proposed law, that of either giving or refusing out-door relief to a whole people.
We wonder if the authors of this measure have ever attempted to realize in imagination the details of the task which, when the act shall have passed, lies to be performed either by them, or, as they would be glad to believe, by poor-law commissioners and boards of guardians. If, as a general rule, out-door relief is given, and if the relief is such in quantity and quality as the law intends, that is, sufficient for healthful support, those must be blind to all recent experience of Irish habits and character who suppose that any work whatever will be done, by the majority of the relieved class, unless from compulsion, and it will therefore be absolutely necessary to have recourse to a labour test. But if the persons relieved are required to work, and this not nominally but really, we wonder whether any one has calculated how many tens of thousands of armed men it will require to superintend the whole agricultural population of the south and west of Ireland, and keep them to their prescribed duty. If, on the other hand, the general rule is to be not the grant of out-door relief, but the refusal of it, we wonder whether it has been calculated how many tens of thousands of armed men will suffice to protect the refusers from the peculiar form which popular displeasure assumes in Ireland towards those who withhold from the people what they consider as a right, even when not promised to them, as out-door relief will now be, by a deliberate enactment of the Legislature. What escape the Government will find from this dilemma we in vain attempt to divine: some escape from it they must find. And if the argument which has now prevailed with Lord John Russell, “What else have you to propose?”3 is to prevail, then there is no experiment so opposed to reason and practicability as not to have a chance of being tried in so really desperate a condition as that of the Irish Government will then be.
Some persons, whose opinion is entitled to respect, are reconciled to the intended measure by the persuasion that the unspeakable embarrassments which it will immediately create will force the Government to undertake a great national measure of emigration; and Mr. Scrope, we perceive, indulges the pleasing illusion that the same cause will induce the landlords to grant peasant properties. These, in fact, are the only two things which any sane person has proposed as means of making the intended poor-law a safe measure, and we give Mr. Scrope credit for as much of sanity as is implied in that idea. But can we give the same credit to Ministers, and to the majority which supports them? That very appeal of Lord John Russell, which he thinks so irresistible, demonstrates the contrary. “What else is proposed?” asks the Minister. Why, these very things, emigration and peasant properties, are proposed. And so worthily does the Minister appreciate these remedies, so acutely sensible is he of their being necessary safeguards or necessary consequences of his poor-law, that he allows it to be affirmed in his presence, without contradiction, that he means to abandon even the small measure which he promised respecting peasant properties; while as to emigration, he has from the first declared that he means to have nothing to do with it.4 If a national effort were to be made for emigration, the proper time would be now, when the vast sums which it must cost (in the way of advance at least) are to be expended at any rate, and when the people are still willing to go. Wait till out-door relief has become a habit, and try emigration then if you can.
For the most deplorable feature of the new social system preparing for Ireland is, that it threatens to put an extinguisher on the real remedies. If emigration or home colonization would be efficacious with a poor-law, they would be efficacious without a poor-law; no one can doubt that if effected on a sufficient scale they would enable every Irish peasant to live in comfort, on condition of vigorous industry. And let us remark, by the by, that it is great thoughtlessness (to say no worse) in Mr. Scrope to assert that we are for keeping down population by starvation. No one is better aware than Mr. Scrope that with the measures we recommend no danger of starvation would exist. But adopt even those measures, together with an out-door poor-law, and it is impossible any longer to guarantee their efficacy. Make every Irish family secure of food without work, or even without hard work, and no one can answer that what you have to offer to them more than food, in return for unremitting toil beyond the ocean, or as settlers on the waste, will be a sufficient inducement to them. Some there are who, being above the poorest in industry and prudence, have raised themselves somewhat above that level in pecuniary circumstances: these, the élite of the class, the nucleus of improvement, the hope of the country for the future, these will emigrate, as they are already doing: the impending poor-rate will be effectual to extinguish them. But the indolent and listless, the cottier or conacre-man, whose favourite pursuit is to “sit by the fire till the praties are done,”5he will beg to be excused from emigrating, nor will he even care to undergo the very considerable labour of reclaiming waste. So long as the poor-rate is available to him, he will accept of nothing which is only to be obtained by real work. When the vast number of the paupers shall have consumed, or their disinclination to work shall have destroyed, the fund from which the eleemosynary support is drawn, they will throw themselves upon England; and then, if ever, when the evil returns upon ourselves, we shall be forced to begin treating the Irish people as moral agents, influenced by motives, and who must be acted on by a system of moral government, and not as creatures whom we can feed like pigs or turkeys, and prevent as easily from straying out of the bounds of the stye or poultry yard.
[1 ]Scrope, Letter to the Editor (17 Mar., 1847), Morning Chronicle, 19 Mar., p. 6, in reply to No. 361.
[2 ]Scrope was referring to Malthusian population theory, and to Ephraim Jenkinson, a character in Oliver Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield, 2 vols. (London: Newbery, 1766), who pretends to a learned cosmogony as part of his swindling (see Chaps. xiv and xxv for his preposterous displays of learning).
[3 ]Russell, Speech on the Poor Relief (Ireland) Bill (12 Mar., 1847), PD, 3rd ser., Vol. 90, col. 1251.
[4 ]Russell made these statements in his speech of 25 Jan. (see No. 359). The affirmation was made by Lord John Manners in a speech on the Poor Relief (Ireland) Bill (15 Mar.), ibid., 1387-8.
[5 ]In “State of Ireland,” Quarterly Review, LXXIX (Dec. 1846), 246, Mortimer O’Sullivan (1791?-1859), an Irish Protestant divine, quotes from the Irish song: “The finest of fun / That there’s under the sun, / Is to sit by the fire till the praties is done.”