The following is the preface of a pamphlet edited by Mitchel entitled ‘Irish Political Economy’, featuring the writings of Jonathan Swift and Bishop George Berkeley, published by the Irish Confederation, 1847.
SIR WALTER SCOTT, writing of the year 1720, when Swift first began to write on Irish politics, says, ‘that no nation ever needed more a patriotic defender than Ireland at this period.’ It may be added, that no nation ever needed a patriotic defender so much as Ireland has done during the whole of the one hundred and twenty-six years that have elapsed since. During all that time, except an interval of eighteen years, the complaint of Irish misery, beggary, hunger, and nakedness, has been growing louder and wilder—every evil which then excited the indignation of the Dean of St. Patrick’s, or the Bishop of Cloyne, has been since aggravated: whatever manufactures were then left us have since been systematically destroyed-whatever comforts Irish farmers and labourers then enjoyed have since been taken from them—until at last many hundreds of thousands of Irishmen are either dying or doomed to death from sheer want of nourishment.
And so uniform has been the process—so identical the agency that impoverished Ireland then, beggared her ever since, and starves her now—that the warnings, advice, and remonstrances, which were addressed to our ancestors one hundred and twenty years ago, suit our condition exactly to this day. Now, as then, if Irishmen are hungry, it is that Englishmen may be filled—if Irish tradesmen are idle, it is that English ones may be fully employed, at good wages—if Irish labourers perish, it is simply that English labourers may flourish.
We have the more need of sound advice and information upon these points, inasmuch as English professors of political economy have, by perverting and misapplying the principles of that science, endeavoured to prove to us, that to part with our bread and cattle is profitable ‘commerce,’ and that our trading intercourse with their country enriches us immensely, whatever the ignorant and starving Irish may say and feel to the contrary;1 and the present Prime Minister of England has written a letter to inform us that we shall probably continue in future seasons to send away Irish food to be eaten in England; and that to enable Ireland to maintain her population (that is, after sending away the usual quota of provisions), some other grain or root must be discovered, and agriculture greatly extended. Here is an extract from his letter:—
‘One thing is certain—in order to enable Ireland to maintain her population, her agriculture must be greatly improved. Cattle, corn, poultry, pigs, eggs, butter, and salt provisions, have been, and will probably continue to be, her chief articles of export. But beyond the food exchanged for clothing and colonial products, she will require in future a large supply of food of her own growth or produce, which the labourer should be able to buy with his wages.’2
The minister does not expressly say that it is his peculiar business, as it will be his care, to take measures for ensuring a continuance of the export of raw produce from Ireland. But it is no less certain that such has been the duty and policy of every English minister, without exception, for one hundred and fifty years. Neither ought this to be stated as matter of blame: it was not out of animosity to our persons that they made laws to prevent Irishmen from making wool into cloth, but only that their own countrymen might keep that trade, and might both eat Irish sheep, and have all the profit of the fleece: it has not been in order to depopulate this island they have devoured our bread, but only that Englishmen might live well. Not because they love Ireland less, but because they love England more (as they ought to do), have English ministers and legislators hitherto taken care that our substance should be devoured by their countrymen. But it is right that all our countrymen should understand why it is they are wretched, and miserable, and poor, and naked, and should know that they must continue to be so exactly as long as they choose to submit to be ruled by strangers, and no longer.
To help them to understand this, the following two tracts, written by Dean Swift, and extracts from Bishop Berkeley’s work called ‘The Querist,’ are now re-published, with the addition of a few notes, merely to show the progress of plunder, and bring the statistics of beggary down to the present time. And that every body who can read in all Ireland may have an opportunity of learning what his country’s complaint is, and what the infallible remedy, the publication is made in the smallest space and cheapest form possible.
It is hardly necessary to say that it is not to enforce any peculiar commercial policy, prohibitor or protective, with a view of reviving our own manufactures, and keeping our food at home, that these tracts are re-published. Even if we should satisfy ourselves that exports from Ireland ought to be prohibited, or manufactures in Ireland protected, we have no legislature to carry our views into effect; and the legislature which at present governs us would, of course, do the exact contrary. All that is here aimed at is to make every body familiar with the principles and history of England’s commercial policy towards Ireland; and then Irishmen can submit to its continuance, or not, as they please.
To ensure the more respectful attention to these tracts, and the more extensive reception of their doctrines, I shall only add, that one of them, ‘Swift’s Proposal,’ was held to be ‘seditious,’ and the man who printed it was prosecuted by direction of the English Government.
Council Rooms, 9. D’Olier-street,
March 15th, 1847.
1 McCulloch demonstrates this by argument, and Martin proves it with figures.
2 Letter to the Duke of Leinster, dated Downing-street, Oct. 17, 1846.