Proposal for an Agricultural Association between the Landowners and Occupiers – To the Landowners of Ireland, Tenakill, Abbeyleix, April 19th, 1847.

I address you, gentlemen, from a great distance – the distance that separates you from the people – for I am one of the people. This is a disadvantage of some account, and might be discouraging at a season more settled. But I know that in periods of peril, when distress and disaster are present, and danger and dread are in the future, men are allowed to assume rights which must be in abeyance during ordinary times.

This is my reason and right in addressing you – that I am excited and authorised by the feelings and emergencies of the occasion. This is my claim to a hearing – not that I ask it in my own cause or, in that of the class I belong to; nor that I urge it for the sake of the masses of men who are unable to ask it for themselves; but that I claim a hearing and crave to be heard on your own behalf – on behalf of your own interest, and honour, and existence, as owners of that soil on which thousands are famishing to death for want of food.

My general object in addressing you is that of calling public notice, if I can, to the full extent of the effects which I think must inevitably follow past or present events, if the cause of these events be not checked or changed. All the facts I possess I have considered and counted in one view together, in their connection and consequence, and inferred the result.

This is a task which few others, I fear, have undertaken, nor is it any manner of surprise. Within sight and sound of this dismal calamity, amid the actual horrors of every passing hour, it is scarcely possible to look far into the future, or take thought and care for remote results. In the presence of famine men are blind to its effects.

It is doing its work in the dark, and no watch is set or warning raised. From every house and every voice throughout this land there is but one cry now – the cry for food. Food for today, and food for tomorrow – for this year and the next. But not all the clamour and outcry that has been raised throughout Ireland during the last few months has added a single pound to the supply of food, either for this year or the next.

What men were unable to do, they set about doing; what they were able to do before they left are leaving undone. For something else is wanting, and requires to be provided, besides food for today or tomorrow, else a revolution is at hand. A revolution of the worst type and character – not such as when a nation breaks up under armed violence, to reunite and rise in structure as strong as before; but such as when it falls to pieces, rotting to a final fetid ruin.

Besides the general object mentioned, I have a particular and more definite purpose, which will develop itself as I proceed. It would be useless to state it formally before it can be fully understood. Though I write more especially for you, my lords and gentlemen, landowners of Ireland, yet, I write also for the public; and shall address myself to either, as occasion may seem to demand. The failure of the potato, and consequent famine, is one of those events which come now and then to do the work of ages in a day, and change the very nature of an entire nation at once, it has even already produced a deeper social organisation than did the French Revolution – greater waste of life – wider loss of property – more than the horrors, with none of the hopes.

For its direction still seems dragging downwards, while her revolution took France to the sun – gave her wealth, and victory, and renown – a free people and a firm peasantry, lords of their own land. It has unsettled society to the foundation; deranged every interest, every class, every household.

Every man’s place and relation is altered, labour has left its track, and life lost its form. One entire class, the most numerous and important in Ireland, has already begun to give way; and is about being displaced. The tenant-farmer of ten acres or under is being converted into an “independent labourer.”

But it is accomplishing something more than mere social derangement, or a dislocation of classes. It has come, as if commissioned, to produce at length, and not too soon, a dissolution of that state and order of existence in which we have heretofore been living. The constitution of society that has prevailed in this island can no longer maintain itself, or be maintained.

It has been tried for generations; it has now, at least, been fully and finally tested; and the test has proved fatal. It was ever unsound and infirm, and is now breaking to pieces under the first severe experiment, an experiment which that of any other country would have easily withstood.

Nor heaven nor human nature will suffer it to be re-established or continue. If the earth, indeed, with all things therein, was made wholly for the few, and none of it for the many, then may it continue; and if all creation was made for you, my lords and gentlemen, and none for us, then it may continue; if men are bound to live on for ever, slaves to a dominion that dooms them to toil, and cold, and hunger – to hardship and suffering in every shape; if they have no right even to life except at another’s license, then may it continue; if they be bound to submit in patience to perish of famine and famine-fever, then it may continue.

But if all have a right to live in freedom and comfort on their own labour; if the humblest among them has a claim to full, secure and honest subsistence, not the knavish and beggarly subsistence of the poorhouse, then that constitution cannot and it shall not be re-established again.

When society fails to perform its duty and fulfil its office of providing for its people, it must take another and more effective form, or it must cease to exist. When its members begin to die out under destitution – when they begin to perish in thousands under famine and the effects of famine – when they begin to desert and fly from the land in hundreds of thousands under the force and fear of deadly famine – then it is time to see it is God’s will that society should stand dissolved, and assume another shape and action, and He works His will by human hands and natural agencies.

The case has arisen even now in Ireland, and the effect has already followed in part. Society stands dissolved. In effect, as well as of right, it stands dissolved, and another requires to be constituted. To the past we can never return, even if we would. The potato was our sole and only capital, to live and work on, to make much or little of; and on it the entire social economy of this country was founded, formed and supported.

That system and state of things can never again be resumed or restored; not even should the potato return. A new adjustment is now to be formed, is to form and develop itself; a new social order to be arranged; a new people to be organised. Or otherwise, that people itself is about to become extinct. Either of these is inevitable, and either is desirable. In condition, and character, and conduct, a stain to earth, a scandal and a shame among the nations, a grievance to Heaven, this people has been for ages past a dark spot in the path of the sun.

Nature and Heaven can bear it no longer. To any one who either looks to an immediate directing Providence, or trusts to a settle course of natural causes, it is clear that this island is about to take existence under a new tenure, or else that Nature has issued her decree, often issued heretofore, against nations and races, and even for the same crime – that one other imbecile and cowardly people shall cease to exist, and no longer cumber the earth.

The power of framing a new order is in your hands, my lords and gentlemen, if you choose to exercise it. The work of reconstruction belongs of right to you, if you have the wisdom and the will to do it. It is in emergencies and occasions like the present, rather than in ordinary and settled times, that a national aristocracy is required, and if they be not worthy of such occasions they are worthless altogether.

It is a time like this that tries and tests the worth of a class, as it tests the worth of individual men. Not to time should the task be committed, nor to chance; not to the government of England, which is incompetent to the case; not to the parliament of England, where you are made a mark for pelting at; nor to the desperate remedies of men whom you have, yourselves, made desperate.

Ireland demands from you now something more than her present dole of daily food – a mode and system of providing full food for herself. She looks to you for this – that she be not condemned to live as a beggar on public alms, nor as a pauper on public works and poorhouse rations; but aided or enabled to find or form a mode of making her bread in all future time by free, unforced and honest labour.

She has lost her means of living; she requires some other, more sufficient and secure than those she has lost. Her demand, in full and fine, is for what is of more effective worth and weight than all the political constitutions that were ever promised – for what senates or sovereigns cannot make or unmake, but men must make for themselves – her demand for a new SOCIAL CONSTITUTION, under which to live.

This is the task you are called on to undertake, the work you are wanted to do, or forfeit your footing in this island of ours – a work to which political constitution is light in comparison and little in importance. Political rights are but paper and parchment. It is the social constitution that determines the condition and character of a people – that makes and moulds the life of man.

We are now living in the midst of a social anarchy, in which no man knows with certainty what he is, or what he can call his own. Never was government or guidance more necessary to a people; but government or guidance there is none, for the great purpose needed. An extreme and extraordinary case has arisen – one that seldom arises in modern times – and not to be judged or treated by any ordinary law.

A new structure of society has to be created; and the country has a right to require of you to counsel and conduct and lead her; because you own her soil, because your own worth and value are in question – your interest and position involved and committed; because the work cannot so speedily and safely be done without your aid; because in some respects and in some degree you are considered specially charged with the calamitous crisis that has occurred; because your rights of ownership are thought by numbers to be the only obstacle to the creation at once of a sound system of social prosperity and happiness, which would be formed by the natural energies and social instincts of mankind, if those energies were left to act, and not fettered or interfered with by your claims of dominion; and finally, because you ought of right to be – where you have never chosen to be – at the head of the people.

And at their head or at their side you must now stand, or else your aid will not be taken. On other terms it will not now be accepted; and the work will be done by other hands than yours. You are far less important to the people than the people are to you. You cannot act or stand alone, but they can. In the case that has arisen, the main power is in their hands, and little in yours. Your power of position has departed. You cannot reform and reorganise a whole people without their own consent and co-operation. You cannot act against them – you cannot act without them. They can do what is wanted of themselves, and without your assistance.

They have the will, and may learn the way. A dissolution of the social system has taken place. The failure of the potato was the immediate, exciting cause. Into the predisposing causes it is needless for the present to inquire. There was no outrise or revolt against it. It was not broken up by violence. It was borne for ages with beggarly patience, until it perished by the irritation of God in the order of Nature.

A clear, original right returns and reverts to the people – the right of establishing and entering into a new social arrangement. The right is in them, because the power is in them. The right lodges where the power lodges. It is not a case to which governments or parliaments are competent. The sole office and duty of government under the circumstances is that of supporting the destitute, and maintaining the public order during the period of transition and reorganisation.

Should it attempt doing more than this, it will be assuming a power which it does not possess, and cannot even make an effort to exercise without committing injustice, doing injury and suffering defeat. With the great body and mass of the people, in their original character and capacity, resides, of necessity, the power, in its full plenitude, of framing or falling into a new form of organisation – a new mode of living and labour.

Your aid, my lords and gentlemen, is most desirable, if accorded on terms and in a mode which would be thought likely to contribute to general benefit and happiness. On other terms, or for other objects – with a view to your own personal interests alone, and on terms to assert and secure your own position at any cost to the country and community – if offered on such views and terms, your service and aid will not be accepted; and the present condition of anarchy will be protracted by strife and struggle, terminating, possibly, in violent convulsion, from which you, at least, would come out the losers, whoever might be the winners.

To ensure against such a contingency, it is necessary that you should now combine and co-operate with that people from whom, for long ages, you have stood apart, aliens and enemies to them, as they to you. They count more in millions than you count in thousands. If you desire that they and you should now join hands to carry the boat over the rapids, it must be on terms which they will accept; on terms of advantage to them as well as to you – and the first condition and very basis of a union must be the distinct acknowledgement and assertion, in its widest extent, in its fullest force, power, and plenitude, of the principle of ALLEGIANCE TO COUNTRY.

On any other basis, no federation can form or be formed, take effect, or be of force, in Ireland now. To save mistake I ought to mention, and mark what is I do not mean, as well as what my meaning is. I do not mean that you should declare for Repeal. I scarcely know that I can call myself a Repealer, further than this – I would not say aye to the question if were put to me to decide.

The results of Repeal would depend on the means and men by whom it should have been accomplished. It might give to Ireland all that Ireland wants, and is withering in want of – equal liberty and equal laws, science and art, manufacture and trade, respect and renown; wealth to the merchant, security and comfort to the cottage; its pride of power and place to the castle, fame and fortune to genius and talent, all of that which ennobles and endears to man the land he lives in – this it might do.

It might subject us to an odious and ignoble tyranny. I am far from wishing you to take any course that would pledge you to Repeal, or to any other political measure. I do not write with a view to Repeal, or any other political object whatever. My meaning is far more general, and states itself in more general terms.

Nothing is requisite or required that would commit you to particulars, to any political party, cause, or course of conduct. But a full act and avowal of attachment and allegiance to this island, in priority and preference to any and every other country – this is required, and will be strictly required; not in mere idle form of protest and profession, but in full efficient proof and practice that Ireland is your own mother-country, and her people your people, – that her interest and honour, her gain and her glory, are counted as your own, – that her rights and liberties you will defend, as part of your inheritance, – that in peace you will lead her progress, and carry her banner in battle, – that your labour shall be in her service, and your lives laid down at her need, – that henceforth you will be, not a foreign garrison but a national guard, – this you must declare and adopt, as the principle of your proceeding, and the spirit of your action, and the rule of your order; for these are the duties of nobility.

Adopt this principle, and you are armed; on it is your safety and your strength; the future is fettered at your feet; and your name and race shall flourish and not fail. Ireland is yours for ages, on the condition that you will be Irishmen in name, in faith, in fact. Refuse it, and you commit yourselves, in the position of paupers, to the mercy of English ministers and English members; you throw your very existence on English support, which England soon may find too costly to afford; you lie at the feet of events, you lie in the way of a people, and the movement of events and the march of a people shall be over you.

Allegiance to this fair island; it is your title of tenure to the lands you hold, and in right of it you hold them. If you deny and disown it, you assert another title, and must determine to hold your inheritance by force, at your own will and to our injury, in despite and defiance for ours forever.

This would be a bootless and feeble insult, and dangerous withal; for your tittle is worth little indeed under the law you would appeal to: that while from Ireland you take rank and revenue, blood and birth and name – everything that makes home, and binds to country – yet you look not to her, but to another land, for home and country; that you desert and disown, if not hate her old native people; that in England are your hearts and hopes, and that all your household gods are English.

This crime is charged to you; unjustly charged, I trust it is – for a worse crime, and more infamous than disloyalty to kings or crowns, is disloyalty or treason to country. It is a crime not made by lawyers, but made by God; a crime against Nature itself – against all its laws, affections, interests and instincts. Yet the charge is not made against you without colour of truth and show of reason.

On every question that arises, in every contest and collision, whether of honour or interest, you take side and cause with England. All blame for this does not rest on you; but some of it does. Much and most of it rests on a class of men whose claim to attention, however strong, I must defer to a future letter. All such ground of charge must be removed and renounced.

For ever, henceforth, the owners of our soil must be Irish. To all who own land or living in Ireland, Ireland must henceforth be the Queen-island. She holds in her hands the hostages for their fealty, and will not longer put up with TREASON. On no other common ground or general principle can a federation take place between the nobles of the land and the nation at large, than that of common faith and fealty to this their common country.

The formation of the Irish Party was hailed at the time by many as one step of a movement in the direction of Ireland. It may, perhaps, indicate a change of ideas, if not of feelings. You have probably begun to find out that if your feelings are English, yet your fortunes are Irish; that Ireland’s peril is perilous to yourselves; that in renouncing your country, and adopting another, you renounce and revolt from the laws of Nature; and that Nature itself is strong enough to punish the treason.

You have, moreover, got some slight cause to doubt whether England esteems your attachment as of any value, your interest as of much importance, or your very existence as worth the expense and trouble of supporting. But we recognise nothing Irish in this party except its name; nothing that can entitle it to command or call round it the hearts or hopes of this people; or raise it to any higher position than that of a mere club, and a petty club, formed by a class for the single object of saving its own little interests from injury, at any cost to the country.

Whether for its professed or private objects, whether as an Irish party or as a landowner’s club, it is equally and utterly inefficient, and can do nothing for the salvation of the country or for yours. It excludes the people. It embraces no great public principles, passions, purpose, or policy. It bears no banner, and shows no motto. It rallies no support and inspires no confidence; proposes nothing, and promises nothing.

To resist the minister, should his measures of relief or improvement be deemed injurious to the landowners, – this appears the sole object of the Irish Party. But your claims as landowners are no longer maintainable or defensible on their own merits and means. To maintain, you must connect them with those of your country.

A union between parties of the same class – a union of landowners with each other – is adequate to no purpose now. The union required is a union between all classes of whom the people is composed. You are powerless without a people beside or behind you. You must call the commons into your council; and make their private interests and public objects – nay, even perhaps their public passions – a part of your policy. The Irish Party must expand and enlarge into the Irish people; or another and more effective association be framed.

To organise a new mode and condition of labour – a new industrial system; to frame and fix a new order of society; in a word, to give to Ireland a new Constitution, under which the natural capacity of this country would be put into effective action; the resources of its land, labour and capital developed and made available; its slumbering and decaying energies of mind and muscle excited, directed and employed, and the condition and character of its people reconstructed, improved and elevated; this, I have already stated, is the general object which now calls for the united action of the landowners and the people of Ireland in association assembled.

The energies of nature and action of time working together in their wonted course and current will, indeed, in long or short, be adequate, without aid or effort of ours, to form a new and effective settlement of society; but the fabric thus formed will be raised out of the relics and rest on the ruins, of the present existing people in all its classes.

For their own safety and preservation, it is necessary that all those classes should now combine to take the direction of that resolution which will otherwise effect itself, and which, indeed, is in actual process of being effected, without their consent, control, or guidance. That position has become too perilous to maintain.

Your path of safety, as well as of honour, is now the public highway. No byways of your own will carry you through the perils that beset, and the greater perils that are before you. There are many and important questions at issue between you and the landholders, between you and the labourers, between you and the people at large, between you and other classes of the people, between those classes among themselves.

No government, no legislation, no general statutes, no special statutes, no power on earth but the parties concerned; no mode on earth save that of voluntary agreement, can settle those questions. Why should we not meet and settle them amicably? Leave them not to be settled by time or to be settled by strength.

What! To create a complete and efficient industrial economy; to form and give force to a new state and mode of existence; to organise and animate and put into healthy and vigorous action that complex living machine, a social system; to frame and adjust the fabric of society – its mightiest proportions and minutest parts, with all its vast and various interests, arrangements, orders and conditions, independent yet involved, conflicting yet co-operating; what! To do all this?

A work impossible to man; and which, in extent or detail, he never yet undertook or attempted to perform. A work of which the theory and principles are beyond his knowledge or discovery, and the practical execution beyond his utmost power. Nature has reserved it to herself, to effect by a process of her own; for which no artificial process ever was or can be substituted with success. A work we cannot do; God’s hand alone, not man’s, can do it. True – and neither can you form in all its parts the smallest plant that grows. But sow the seed and the plant forms. The powers of vitality require but to be set in movement, and the contrivances of Nature left free to act.

Even so it is in the case we consider. That work may be done, and you must do it or others will; and you must do it at once, for it cannot be waited for. Nor is it, when examined, an undertaking that need dazzle or daunt by its magnitude or multiplicity the meanest mind of all among us. It includes no such complication of difficult questions as it may seem to do; and the only question actually involved is on easy of settlement when put in comparison with its apparent mass.

Its theory contains itself in a single principle; its practical solution is comprised and completed in a single operation. Lay but the foundation and the work is done. Lay the foundation, Nature effects the rest; society forms and fits itself – even as the plant grows when the seed is sown.

Lay deep and strong, the only foundation that is firm under the foot of a nation – a secure and independent agricultural peasantry. A secure and independent agricultural peasantry is the only base on which a people ever rises or can be raised, or on which a nation can safely rest. A productive and prosperous husbandry is the sole groundwork of a solid social economy.

On it and out of it springs the mechanic, and artisan, and trading dealer; fed and fostered by it these swell into the manufacturer and merchant, who multiply into merchants and manufacturers; sustained by it still these enlarge, and gather, and solidify into companies, corporations, classes – into great manufacturing and mercantile systems and interests, which often, like unnatural children, disown and desert the mother that bore and the nurse that fed them; without it there is neither manufacturer, nor trade, nor means to make them, for it is agriculture alone that furnishes these means. Food is our first want – to procure it our first work.

The agricultural class, therefore, must precede and provide for every other. It is first in order of nature, necessity, and time. It is an abundant agriculture alone that creates and sustains manufactures, and arts, and traffic. It is an increasing agriculture alone that extends them. For it is the surplus of food it accumulates, after providing ordinary subsistence, that forms new wants and demands, and the modes and means to meet and satisfy them.

Such is the actual process, a process that never yet was reversed, or carried out in any other course or order; so it was at first, and so it will be forever – in every time, in every clime, in every country. Adopt this process; create what has never yet existed in Ireland, an active and efficient husbandry, a secure and independent agricultural peasantry, able to accumulate as well as to produce; do this, and you raise a thriving and happy community, a solid social economy, a prosperous people, an effective nation.

Create the husbandman and you create the mechanic, the artisan, the manufacturer and merchant. Thus you will work out the ordinance of God, in the order and with the powers of nature. All the natural motives and means with which man is endowed will come then to your relief and assistance, and do the rest.

Any further interference with the course and process of natural laws would be useless and mischievous. Neither monarchs nor mobs ever yet were able to manage or modify that natural process, or ever attempted to enforce interference without doing grievous injury and gross injustice. The abortive and mischievous legislation of both old and recent times affords lessons enough of this, if we choose to learn them.

There seems to be a vague impression on a large portion of the public mind of this country that national attention and exertion, as well as individual effort, should be directed into a course the reverse in its steps and stages of that rational order I have pointed out. We are in the habit of hearing it asserted that a large development of manufacturing industry is what Ireland needs, and that to establish it should be her chief object.

It is even assumed, not unfrequently, that a manufacturing system must precede, and is the only means of promoting, the improvement and prosperity of agriculture itself. This is an error I would wish to see abandoned. It distracts effort and attention from the point on which both ought to be directed, and on which they could act with effect.

I am prepared to prove – what, indeed, any man may prove to himself – that neither by the private enterprise of individuals or companies, neither by the force of national feeling anywhere exerted, neither by public association or public action of any kind or extent, nor by Government aid, if such aid could be expected – neither by these or any other means and appliances can a manufacturing system be established in Ireland, nor so much as a factory built on firm ground, until the support of a numerous and efficient agricultural yeomanry be first secured!

Good friends! You that are recommending us to encourage native manufacture and to form manufacturing associations; tradesmen and townsmen of Ireland! Will you cease to follow a phantom, and give hand and help to create such a yeomanry?

My general object, the formation of a new social economy, thus resolves itself into the formation of a new agricultural system. The principles on which that new system is to be founded must either be settled by agreement between the landowners and the people, or they must be settled by a struggle. What I think those principles ought to be, if they be made articles of agreement, as well as the practical mode of arriving at and arranging such agreement, I shall take another opportunity of stating.

You, however, my lords and gentlemen, it would appear from your present proceedings, have already settled among yourselves the entire future economy of your country – determined the fortunes and fate of this entire island – disposed of the existence of this little people of eight millions. The small land-holdings are to be “consolidated” into large farms, the small landowners “converted” into “independent labourers”; those labourers are, of course, to be paupers – those paupers to be supported by a poor law – that poor law is to be in your hands to manage and administer.

Thus is to be got rid of the surplus of population beyond what the landowners require. Meantime, by forcible ejectments, forced surrender, and forced emigration, you are effecting the process of “conversion” a little too rapidly, perhaps, for steady and safe working.

And so, it seems, you have doomed a people to extinction? And decreed to abolish Ireland? The undertaking is a large one. Are you sure your strength will bear you through it? Or are you sure your strength will not be tested? The settlement you have made requires nothing to give it efficacy, except the assent or acquiescence of eight millions of people. Will they assent or acquiesce?

Will Ireland, at last, perish like a lamb, and let her blood sink in the ground, or will she turn as turns the baited lion? For my own part I can pronounce no opinion, and for you, my lords and gentlemen, if you have any doubts on the question, I think it would be wisdom to pause in your present course of proceeding until steps can be taken and measures adopted for effecting an accommodation and arrangement between you and the present occupiers of the soil, on terms that would preserve the rights and promote the interests of each party.

If you persevere in enforcing a clearance of your lands you will force men to weigh your existence, as landowners, against the existence of the Irish people. The result of the struggle which that question might produce ought, at best, to be a matter of doubt in your minds; even though you should be aided, as you doubtless would be, by the unanimous and cordial support of the people of England, whose respect and esteem for you are so well known and loudly attested.

I have the honour to remain, my lords and gentlemen, your humble and obedient servant,