Front Page Titles (by Subject) 372.: ENGLAND AND IRELAND EXAMINER, 13 MAY, 1848, PP. 307-8 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV
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372.: ENGLAND AND IRELAND EXAMINER, 13 MAY, 1848, PP. 307-8 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, XXV - Newspaper Writings December 1847 - July 1873 Part IV, 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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ENGLAND AND IRELAND
The agitation for repeal of the union of Ireland with Great Britain, having died down in 1843, began again in late 1847. The French Revolution of February 1848 and the Chartist agitation sparked hopes of a bloodless revolution in Ireland, aided by the French; the Nation in April called for a national guard, and issued a radical creed. This letter from Mill, dated 5 May, is in response to “Repeal of the Union,” Examiner, 29 Apr., pp. 275-6 (from which the quotations are taken), by Thomas Carlyle. It signals the chasm that now separated their social and political views, as Mill, though one of Carlyle’s “earliest admirers,” now saw his views as pernicious, while Carlyle thought Mill’s valueless. (Their conflict over “The Negro Question” in 1849 may be compared; see CW, Vol. XXI, pp. 85-95.) This letter to the editor appears in the “Political Examiner” headed as title, with the subhead, “To the Editor of the Examiner.” It is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A letter signed M on ‘England and Ireland’ in the Examiner of 13th May 1848”
(MacMinn, p. 69).
In your last week’s paper you published a dissertation by a writer whom, even if you had not named him, it would have been impossible to mistake, expressive of his judgment on the question of Irish Repeal. Will you permit one of that writer’s earliest admirers to express, through the same medium, the grounds on which he feels compelled to declare unqualified dissent from the judgment thus promulgated?
Let me premise that I am not an Irishman, but an Englishman; that I do not desire Repeal, but, on the contrary, should regard it as a misfortune to all concerned. It is good government that should be agitated for, not separate government: but separation is better than bad government; and I entirely sympathize in the indignation which an Irishman is entitled to feel at the reasons given by your correspondent for refusing it.
The doctrine of your correspondent is (to quote his own words) that “the Destinies have laid upon England a heavier, terribler job of labour than any people has been saddled with in these generations”—no other than that of “conquering Anarchy:” that this, which is “England’s work, appointed her by the so-called Destinies and Divine Providences,” cannot go on unless Ireland is either English, or in English hands; and that consequently the repeal of the Union is “flatly forbidden by the laws of the universe.”
This is a new phasis of the Hebrew prophet of these later days, the Ezekiel of England. The spirit of his prophesying is quite changed. Instead of telling of the sins and errors of England, and warning her of “wrath to come,”1 as he has been wont to do, he preaches the divine Messiahship of England, proclaims her the prime minister of Omnipotence on this earth, commissioned to reduce it all (or as much of it as is convenient to herself) into order and harmony, or at all events, under that pretext, into submission, even into “slavery,” under her own power—will it or will it not.
When an assumption of this sort is coolly made, and the already ample self-conceit of John Bull encouraged to invest itself with the imaginary dignity of an appointed minister of “the laws of the universe,” the proper answer would seem to be, simply to deny the premises. Where is the evidence that England has received any such mandate from the supreme powers? Where are her credentials? By what signs has she shown that the “conquering of anarchy” is the work specially appointed to her from above?
If the test is to be (and one cannot imagine your correspondent appealing to any other), her having given proof of the capacity to do it, it so happens that England is precisely the one country among all others, which has had the opportunity of showing, and has conclusively shown, that she has not that capacity. For five centuries, to speak within bounds, has this very corner of earth in question, this Ireland, been given over to her by the “destinies and divine providences,” as a test of what capacity she has for reducing chaos into order.2 For five centuries has she had Ireland under her absolute, resistless power, to show what she could do in the way of “conquering anarchy”—and the result is the most total, disastrous, ignominious failure yet known to history. No other nation ever had such an opportunity for so prolonged a period, and made such a use of it. The Romans were in many respects barbarians, yet the Gauls, within a century after being conquered by them, were a civilized people; and the most recalcitrant of all subjects with whom they had to deal, the people who then, as now, had the strongest natural tendency to anarchy of any in Europe, the Iberian Spaniards, in 150 years after the conquest were perfectly peaceable, and far more civilized than the Romans themselves were when they conquered them. Mahomet, one of your correspondent’s heroes,3 was a savage, and a leader of savages; he lived in one of the worst times of the world’s history, yet in a century after his death the most civilized monarchy in the western world, one which kept arts, letters, and commerce alive when they seemed to have perished everywhere else, had been founded at Grenada by the descendants of his wild Arabs. These may be called conquerors of anarchy. But England! and in Ireland! For the first four and a half of her five centuries she had not so much as the wish to do aught but oppress and trample on Ireland for her own supposed benefit. I waive penal laws4 and all controversial topics, but even in the eighteenth century she purposely and avowedly crushed the nascent manufactures of Ireland (the hopeful germ of so much that Ireland still needs), lest they should compete with her own.5 And there was not one of her statesmen who would not have thought it disgracefully unpatriotic to have acted otherwise. This is no peculiar reproach to England; it was the infernal spirit of that time—a time at which England, now the liberator of the negro slave, made wars and treaties for the sake of Assiento contracts for supplying negroes to be worked to death in Spanish America.6 It is to the honour of England that she was the first to cast off this spirit: and during the present generation, the policy of England towards Ireland has been, in point of intention, as upright and even as generous as was consistent with the inveterate English habit of making the interest of the aristocracy and of the landlords the first consideration. As between the two countries, nothing can now be more disinterested than the policy of England. It is a pity we should be obliged to add, nothing more imbecile; more devoid of plan, of purpose, of ideas, of practical resource. Omitting former times, we had, two years ago, what may prove to have been a last opportunity of regenerating Ireland. A terrible calamity quelled all active opposition to our government, and Ireland was once more a tabula rasa,7 on which we might have inscribed what we pleased. This was an occasion for English politicians to show what they had in them. Here was a field to exercise this divine gift of bringing chaos into order. Whatever ideas they had, they must have then displayed; and it proved that they had none. They spent ten millions in effecting what seemed impossible—in making Ireland worse than before.8 They demoralized and disorganized what little of rational industry the country contained; and the only permanent thing with which they endowed Ireland, was the only curse which her evil destiny seemed previously to have spared her—a bad poor law.9
The eternal laws of justice, which one might have expected that your correspondent at least would have stood champion for, will not permit that a country which has for five hundred years had the power to make what it pleased of another, and has used that power as England has done, and which has no more idea now, than it had 500 years ago, how to make any good use of the power, should now—when its unhappy dependent, weary of such government, declares that it will try what can be done by and for itself—should now say to the dependent, I am appointed to improve and civilize you, and rather than let go my hold of you, I will make you suffer “a doom that makes me shudder.” You appointed! the dependent country may well retort; then why did you not set about it before? What proof do you give that you mean to attempt it now? And even if you do, has not your capacity, both long since and down to this very hour, been weighed in the balance and found wanting?10
There might be somewhat to be said for a pretension of this sort, if made in behalf of England by a Cromwell.11 If courage and capacity of the highest order, proved through a long period of confusion, in which capacity of every sort rose to the top, had invested some eminent ruler of this island with a temporary dictatorship, thereby enabling him more effectually and speedily to clear away all obstacles to future progress, and erect on the ground thus cleared an enduring edifice of good government, and if every part of his conduct steadily manifested that such was really his purpose, I for one should have nothing to object, if such a ruler claimed it as his duty, and consequently his right, having already Ireland under his power, to do a similar good work for it also; nor is it likely that either the duty or the right would in such case be gainsaid by Ireland itself. But at present the individual in whom England is personified, and who is to regard himself as the chosen instrument of heaven for making Ireland what it ought to be, and is encouraged to carry fire and sword through Ireland if that assumption should be disputed, is—Lord John Russell!
In regard to the 150,000,000 of subjects whom your correspondent says that the English nation has to care for; it is quite true that in India, having to do, not with “anarchy” (save in some passing exceptional case, like that of the Sikhs), but with a people inured from numberless generations to submission, the English nation does contrive to govern them some degrees better than they were governed by their tyrannical or incapable native despots. And inasmuch as England was able to do this in spite of Napoleon and of united Europe, she could probably continue to do so in spite of Ireland. As for the remainder of the 150,000,000 (except the comparatively insignificant negro colonies), I am yet to learn that England does any one thing for them which they could not do better for themselves; or that her good government of them consists when at the best, in anything better than in leaving them alone. With respect to the “world just now fallen into bottomless anarchy,” and which your correspondent seems to think may expect to be helped out of it by England, is not this the case for saying, “Physician, heal thyself!”12 The quellers of anarchy among the English ruling classes will have work enough of that sort to do at home, unless the author of Past and Present is a false prophet.13 With what sort of mental furniture they are fitted out for doing it, we have had some recent specimens in the childish panic of a few days ago, the childish exultation when the panic was over, and that precious proposal from the leaders of all the parties in the state for a “Public Order Memorial”—a thing to convulse gods and men with “unextinguishable laughter.”14 These sages are hardly yet fairly in the wood, when they begin to holloa as if they were already out of it.
No, sir: rely on it, that England has no mission, just now, to keep other nations out of anarchy; but on the contrary, will have to learn, from the experience which other nations are now in a way of acquiring, the means by which alone it can henceforth be averted from herself. And your correspondent, of all persons, might have been expected to acknowledge that there is not one of the working men and women now in conference with Louis Blanc at the Luxembourg on the “organization of labour,”15 who is not a degree nearer to the overcoming of this difficulty than Lord John Russell or Sir Robert Peel; since those at least know what the problem is, and (however crude and wild their present notions are) place their hopes in attaining a rational and peaceful solution of it, while the Englishmen place theirs in nothing but in crushing it down, and preventing it from being mooted at all. Before I cease to intrude on your space, let me be permitted to express the opinion that Europe, and especially France, which are accused, and by your correspondent, of rushing headlong into anarchy, are in reality affording a proof, and a most precious and salutary one, how utterly repugnant all approach to anarchy is to the present state of the European mind. For six weeks after the revolution there was no police, no organized force, the city guard was annihilated, the troops banished, the Government had no means of making itself obeyed but by argument and persuasion; nothing apparently stood between Paris and anarchy; yet nothing worse is known to have happened than a few forced illuminations in honour of trees of liberty; and even of common offences, it is said that a smaller number were committed than in ordinary times. Most remarkable is it, that so far from being an anarchical spirit, the spirit which is now abroad is one which demands too much government; it is wholly a spirit of association, of organization; even the most extreme anti-property doctrines take the form of Communism, of Fourierism,16 of some scheme not for emancipating human life from external restraint, but for subjecting it to much more restraint than it has heretofore been subject to, or ever ought to be; and the apostles of those doctrines rely avowedly on moral force and on bringing the rest of mankind to their opinion by experiment and discussion.
I am, sir, your obedient servant,
[1 ]Though wrath is certainly promised in Ezekiel (see Chap. 7), the warning is directed to the “generation of vipers” in Matthew, 3:7.
[2 ]Mill is dating England’s rule of Ireland to the reign of Edward III (1312-77).
[3 ]Mahomet (570-632), the founder of Islam, was the subject of the second lecture in Carlyle’s On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History (London: Fraser, 1841), first delivered in a series of lectures that Mill had attended.
[4 ]There was no penal “code” in the strict sense, but a long list of Acts, beginning with the British statute 3 William and Mary, c. 2 (1691), and continued in such Acts of the Irish parliament as 7 William III, c. 5 (1695), 10 William II, cc. 8, 13 (1698), 2 Anne, cc. 5, 6 (1703), 6 Anne, c. 6 (1707), 8 Anne, c. 3 (1709), 2 George I, c. 10 (1715), 6 George I, c. 10 (1719), 1 George II, c. 9 (1727), 9 George II, c. 3 (1735), and 15 & 16 George III, c. 21 (1776). The general intent is expressed in the title of the last cited: An Act to Prevent and Punish Tumultuous Risings of Persons within This Kingdom, and for Other Purposes Therein Mentioned.
[5 ]The many acts include 10 & 11 William III, c. 10 (1699), wool; 9 Anne, c. 12 (1710), hops; 11 George I, c. 7 (1724), drugs, rags, apples, and pictures; 5 George II, c. 21 (1732), wool again; and 19 George II, c. 12 (1746), glass, liquors, and salt.
[6 ]Assiento, a trading agreement (Spanish asiento, contract), applied to those made by Spain with other nations for the supplying of Negro slaves to America; for example and especially, the Asiento Treaty of Utrecht (1713) authorized the British to bring annually, for thirty years, 4800 slaves from her African colonies to America.
[7 ]For the origin of the term, see No. 191, n5.
[8 ]See “An Account of Loans Advanced by the Imperial Treasury for Public Works in Ireland,” PP, 1847, LIV, 91-282.
[9 ]10 Victoria, c. 31 (1847).
[10 ]Daniel, 5:27.
[11 ]Cromwell was greatly admired by Carlyle, who in 1845 edited his Letters and Speeches.
[12 ]Luke, 4:23.
[13 ]In Past and Present (London: Chapman and Hall, 1843), Carlyle made a resonant and challenging plea for leadership to heal the ever-worsening social ills of England.
[14 ]Fears aroused by the mass demonstration of Chartists at Kennington Common on 10 Apr., 1848, proved in the event to be unwarranted, although briefly beforehand London was virtually under martial law. The “Public Order Memorial” had been proposed to commemorate the work of the Special Constables in restraining the Chartists, but on 6 May, the day after Mill wrote his letter, the Committee appointed to act on the Memorial voted to drop the project. The “unextinguishable laughter” was that of the gods in Homer, Iliad, Vol. I, p. 48 (I, 599).
[15 ]Jean Joseph Charles Louis Blanc (1811-82), a socialist member of the Provisional Government, author of Organisation du travail (Paris: Prévot, ), at this time presided over the first assembly of Workers’ Delegates at the Palais du Luxembourg to inquire into the problems of labour; he was a proponent of the “ateliers nationaux” that much attracted Mill.
[16 ]The socialist movement named for its founder, François Marie Charles Fourier (1772-1837), Utopian co-operator whose “phalanstères” earlier attracted the attention of Carlyle and Mill.
[17 ]To Mill’s letter is appended in square brackets the following note by John Forster: “Mr. Carlyle’s dissertation did not exclude what is urged by ‘M.’ It did not extend to that part of the subject which is here discussed. The reader will find, below, a portion of a second communication from Mr. Carlyle which we had received before ‘M.’s’ letter reached us.—Ed. Ex.” This note is immediately followed by Carlyle’s “Legislation for Ireland” (signed “C.,” as was “Repeal of the Union”), in which the new Poor Law Act is praised as providing at least an opportunity to make the landlord active in reform. Carlyle also calls for a Special Commission to deal summarily with the problems, seeing ahead the “rapids of Niagara” that will permit of no “oaring or steering.”