The result of a long life’s experience, and observation of the evils which press upon the people of this land, and render their condition a mournful spectacle to humanity, a scandal and reproach to civilization, and an eternal disgrace to their rulers; and the gist of the opinions I have expressed in the preceding statements, are embodied in the thoughts I have attempted to give expression to in the following observations.
A monopolizing commerce at home, and extensive plunder abroad, furnished our rulers, in former times, with unbounded means of demoralizing the landed aristocracy of this country by corruption, and of keeping down the people by physical force; the result is before us in the misery and wretchedness we now witness, which some foresaw, and sacrificed everything in this life rather than see such dreadful evils entailed on their country. Those evils are now at the bottom of the question, called “the Landlord and Tenant Question.” In the treatment of it, however, matters are left out of sight, which ought to be of primary importance. Who is the original lord of the soil, and to whom was the first grant given? Sacred Scripture tells us, that the earth is the Creators, and that he hath given it to the sons of men; by what authority, then, can any earthly creatures cut off the entail?
My opinion is, that every such attempt is rebellion against the law of the Most High; and in this opinion I am confirmed by the cause of war, which is the consequence of this lust of the possession of land. No man can have a right to the property of another, which property has been conferred on him by that Lord of the land, who is the Lord of all created things and beings. The true interest of every man, is to protect the life and property of his neighbour, as he would his own, and to cause every man to do his duty, in this respect to society. The relation in which the tenant now stands to the landlord, is the relation in which the unprotected traveller stands to the highway-man, who holds a blunderbuss to his breast, while he demands his purse.
When we see the offspring of the landlords of one age, the beggars of another, it proves the unnatural relation in which they stood to the rights of their fellow-men, and the ruinous consequence of the violation of nature’s laws. It is beyond the power of labour to meet the claims that are made upon it, the thing cannot go on, it must end. The class which now fattens on taxation, is driven, by pressure of circumstances, to a sliding-scale, with the view of meeting the varying evils arising from famine and commercial difficulties. The time is coming when the sliding interests of commerce, no longer supported on a sound basis, must sink; and the interests of trade must be founded on the true principles of barter, namely, of value for value, and these interests will then serve as a plank to the drowning prosperity of the nation, and to the people, who are daily swept from the soil by the torrent of taxation, and the united claims of landlords, church-lords, and standing armies, for the protection of both.
The soil, which is the social capital, being ever solvent, possession once secured to the cultivator, in right of the labour he expends upon it, and the improvements on it that have been derived from his labour, remuneration will then be forthcoming for him, and the advantages of prosperous agriculture will extend to every other branch of industry. An honest livelihood will then be within the reach of every industrious man of an adult age, leaving sufficient for all who may be old and helpless. If one man could labour the soil of Ireland, he might be acknowledged its lord and its proprietor, in right of cultivation, which is a just claim to possession. When we repudiate that claim, we involve ourselves in a war of classes, for a control over the Lives, liberties, and properties of each other, by means of force in the field, or stratagem in social intercourse. To establish the cultivator’s claim, and ascertain the relative value of labour to its product, is essential to the peace and happiness of mankind. This consummation of social happiness is fast approaching; it is advancing with the rapidity of the decline of aristocratic power, and the wealth on. which its existence depends. The landlord and tenant question demands the attention of every Irishman.
There are three heavy burdens, which the law- makers of former ages, have bound on the backs of the people — the landed, the mercantile, and the clerical interests. These compose the oppressions out of which grow the distractions of society, out of which the lawyers and the sword-law gentry live. These burdens having increased beyond the power of the masses to bear, a fixity of tenure is offered to them, to induce them to renounce the title which they have from the Most High, to a subsistence from the soil they labour. The present fixity of tenure is maintained at the point of the bayonet. Let moral force beware of contributing to sustain any, except its just pretensions.
The leading politicians of our day are only balancing conflicting interests; and, whether for want of knowledge, or want of will, they have never arrived at a rational view of the one general interest. They have not thought of keeping particular interests in proper bounds, or preventing any combination of partial interests from invading that which is general. The soil is not like the objects of commerce, which are only possessed for the purpose of barter; it is the social capital, from the cultivation of which all earthly wants are supplied, — food, raiment, and shelter, being necessary to the body, and education to the mind. Every one employed in agriculture, manufacture, and instruction, is entitled to reward in proportion to his industry; and society must protect the person and property of every individual who does the duty assigned him. He who will not perform his duty, has no right to protection.
The Most High is Lord of the soil; the cultivator is his tenant. The recognition of all other titles, to the exclusion of this first title, has been the cause of an amount of human misery, beyond all calculation. The old aristocracy having nearly run its race, politicians are now striving to preserve some of its privileges from wreck. A new arrangement is proposed to ward off its total fall; but the fall has been decreed in heaven, and all the men on earth cannot prevent or postpone it, because the progress of Christian truth, which is the perfection of good-will and God-like love, cannot be retarded.
We have been journeying through our own land, like the Israelites in the Wilderness, afraid to look our Canaanite landlords in the face, and longing, too often, for the flesh-pots of the old corruption, to which we were directed never to return. The gift of the land of promise, that will give food to the people, lies before our sons at least. My concurrence shall not be given to the scheme of a delusive fixity of tenure, to enable the land- lord to continue to draw the last potato out of the warm ashes of the poor man’s fire, and leave his children to beg a cold one from those who can ill afford to give it. Is this a remedy for the miseries of a famishing people?
A fixity of tenure — a fixity for ever in famine — for those who till the soil, and do not get sufficient from it for the subsistence of their families. The landlord interest has been promoted at the expense of national and individual prosperity. Its maintenance has been the cause, not only of domestic plunder, but of foreign aggression all over the globe, by sea and land, in the guilt of which every sane adult is more or less concerned, and liable to his share of retribution, unless he uses all the powers of his mind and body to prevent a recurrence of the evil.
This conviction induced the calumniated men of 1798, to incur the perils of resistance to such wickedness, to encounter persecution; banishment, or even death itself, rather than submit to crawl, under oppression, or to crouch at the feet of indemnified culprits in high places, and participate in the unhallowed gains of rapacious cupidity. This conviction, too, encourages the survivors to persevere in the same pursuit, waiting with patience the providential direction of circumstances for the establishment of ‘peace on earth, and good-will among men.’
In all our social relations, it is our duty to preserve the interests of every individual, so as to make the good of each contribute to the interests of the people. This is the true science of politics; every deviation from it is replete with mischief to the masses. In former times, we were fooled with the promises of ‘ reform, from time to time, as circumstances would permit.’ The same idea is now couched in other words — ‘a place bill, a pension bill, and a responsibility bill,’ was the former promised: now it is ‘a fixity of tenure.’ But the seed of moral force, and of natural rights, that was sown during the American and French Revolutions, is springing up; the tares are showing their heads, and as the crop ripens, they will still be distinct; they may stunt the stalks that grow around them, but cannot ultimately mar the crop. Parliaments may decree, but nature will have its course. Patriots may modify their demands, but the people will have their wrongs eventually and entirely redressed. The power of the aristocracy cannot prevent the operation of nature’s laws it cannot, even, find means at the present time, to sustain itself; it is unable to pay its advocates, and hardly able to keep the poor from open rebellion against the rich; it has recourse to a parochial law, with a new name, for every year, to restrain a famished people within the bounds of law: this is the last stage and symptom of its decline. Foreign plunder will not be sufficient for the necessities of the state, nor will domestic industry answer the demands made on it at home.
The absolute necessity of opening new sources of subsistence to the people is now evident; that necessity daily becomes more urgent. It must be pressed on public attention by the people themselves, with a dignity becoming the character of men regenerated by temperance, and the exercise of the virtues of fortitude and forbearance. Not like the merciless landlords, of the past and the present day, turning out on the wide world whole families to perish of hunger and hardship, foodless, friendless, and naked, but putting the means of life and comfort within the reach of the industry of the nation.
Commerce, freed from unnecessary restrictions, and established on sound principles, would furnish, in abundance, all the commodities necessary to a people, and the abolition of usury and withdrawal of encouragement from the concentration of a nation’s wealth, in the hands of a few great capitalists, would tend to preserve the true interests of trade, and to prevent the fluctuations which arise from fraud, money- jobbing, and a reckless spirit of commercial gaming, that follows in the train of usury. But no one mind is capable of directing the minute application of these first principles, to commerce, in a way which the subject requires.
When we see the social fabric, which is built on the sandy foundation of lordship, leadership, and imperial delegation, shaken to its base, by a hurricane of conflicting interests, pernicious in their nature and results, it is time to look out for a rock, on which to found a system more substantial, leaving the rubbish of our statute books, as an example of the worthlessness of the materials, to future builders. That rock is, self-government, based on popular delegation, from small communities, not exceeding thirteen members, of each district or neighbourhood, of determined limits.