The Conquest was now consummated – England, great populous, and wealthy, with all the resources and vast patronage of an existing government in her hands – with a magnificent army and navy – with the established course and current of commerce steadily flowing in the precise direction that suited her interests – with a powerful party on her side in Ireland itself, bound to her by lineage and by interest – and, above all, with her vast brute mass lying between us and the rest of Europe, enabling her to intercept the natural sympathies of other struggling nations, to interpret between us and the rest of mankind, and represent the troublesome sister island, exactly in the light that she wished us to be regarded – England prosperous, potent, and at peace with all the earth besides – had succeeded (to her immortal honour and glory) in anticipating and crushing out of sight and the last agonies of resistance in a small, poor, and divided, carefully disarmed, almost totally disfranchised, and totally deprived of the benefits of that very British “law” against which we revolted with such loathing and horror. England had done this; and whatsoever credit and prestige, whatsoever profit and power could be gained by such a feat, she has them all. “Now, for the first time these six hundred years,” said the London Times, “England has Ireland at her mercy, and can deal with her as she pleases.”
It was an opportunity not to be lost, for the interests of British civilization. Parliament met late in January, 1849. The Queen, in her “speech,” lamented that “another failure of the potato crop had caused severe distress in Ireland: and thereupon asked Parliament to continue, “for a limited period,” the extraordinary power; that is, the power of proclaiming any district under martial law, and of throwing suspected persons into prison, without any charge against them. The Act was passed, of course.
Then, as the famine of 1848 was fully as grievous and destructive as any of the previous famines; as the rate-payers were impoverished, and in most of the “unions” could not pay the rates already due – and were thus rapidly sinking into the condition of paupers; giving up the hopeless effort to maintain themselves by honest industry, and throwing themselves on the earnings of others; as the poorhouses were all filled to overflowing, and the exterminated people were either lying down to die or crowding into the emigrant-ships; – as, in short, the Poor Law, and the New Poor Law, and the Improved Poor Law, and the Supplementary Poor Law, had all manifestly proved a “failure,” Lord John Russell’s next step was to give Ireland more Poor Law.
When I say that the whole code of poor laws was a failure, I must qualify that expression, as before. – They were a failure, for their professed purpose that of relieving the famine; but were a complete success for their real purpose – that of uprooting the people from the land, and casting them forth to perish. I have not much faith in the “government” statistics of that country, but as some may wish to see how much our enemies were willing to admit, I shall give some details from a report furnished in ’48 by Captain Larcom, under the orders of the government, and founded on local reports of police inspectors. I find the main facts epitomized thus, for one year: –
“In the number of farms, of from one to five acres, the decrease has been 24,147; from five to fifteen acres, 27,379; from fifteen to thirty acres, 4,274; whilst of farms above thirty acres the increase has been 3.670. Seventy thousand occupiers, with their families, numbering about three hundred thousand, were rooted out of the land.
In Leinster, the decrease in the number of holdings not exceeding one acre, as compared with the decrease of ’47, was 3,749; above one, and not exceeding five, was 4,026; of five, and not exceeding fifteen, was 2,546: of fifteen to thirty, 391: making a total of 10,617.
In Munster, the decrease in the holdings, under thirty acres, is stated at 18,814; the increase over thirty acres, 1,399.
In Ulster, the decrease was 1,502; the increase, 1,134.
In Connaught, where the labour of extermination was least, the clearance has been most extensive. There, in particular, the roots of holders of the soil were never planted deep beneath the surface, and consequently were exposed to every exterminator’s hand. There were in 1847, 35,634 holders of from one to five acres. In the following year there were less by 9,703; there were 76,707 holders of from five to fifteen acres, less in one year by 12,891; those of from fifteen to thirty acres were reduced by 2.121; a total depopulation of 26,499 holders of land, exclusive of their families, was effected in Connaught in one year.”
On this report it may be remarked that it was a list of killed and wounded in one year of carnage only – and of one class of people only. It takes no account of the dead in that multitudinous class thinned the most by famine, who had no land at all, but lived by the labour of their hands, and who were exposed before the others, as having nothing but life to lose. As for the landlords, already encumbered by debt, the pressure of the poor-rates was fast breaking them down. In most cases, they were not so much as the receivers of their own rents, and had no more control over the bailiffs, sheriffs, and police, who plundered and chased away the people, than one of the pillars of their own grand entrance gates.
Take one paragraph now from amongst the commercial reports of the Irish papers; which will suggest more than any laboured narrative could inculcate: –
“Upwards of one hundred and fifty ass hides have been delivered in Dublin from the county Mayo, for exportation to Liverpool. The carcasses, owing to the scarcity of provisions, had been used as food!”
But those who could afford to dine upon famished jackasses were few, indeed. During this Winter of ’48-9, hundreds of thousands perished of hunger. During this same Winter the herds and harvests raised on Irish ground were floating off to England on every tide: and, during this same Winter, almost every steamship from England daily carried Irish paupers, men, women, and children, away from Liverpool and Bristol, to share the good cheer of their kinsmen at home.
It was in this state of things that Lord John Russell, having first secured a continued suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, proposed an additional and novel sort of poor-rate for Ireland. It was called the “Rate-in-aid.” That is to say, poor-law unions, which were still solvent, and could still in some measure maintain their own local poor, were to be rated for relief of such unions as had’ sunk under the pressure. Assuming that Ireland and England are two integral parts of an “United Kingdom,” (as we are assured they are,) it seems hard to understand why a district in. Leinster should be rated to relieve a pauper territory in Mayo and a district in Yorkshire not.
Or to comprehend why old and spent Irish laborers, who had given the best of their health and strength to the service of England, should be shipped off to Ireland to increase and intensify the pauperism and despair. But so it was: the maxim was that “the property of Ireland must support the poverty of Ireland;” without consideration of the fact that the property of Ireland was all this time supporting the luxury of England.
The next measure passed in the same session of Parliament was the “Incumbered Estates Act:” the Act of 12th and 13th Victoria, c. 77. Under this, a royal commission was issued, constituting a new court “for the sale of Incumbered Estates;” and the scope and intent of it were to give a short and summary method of bringing such estates to sale, on petition either of creditors or of owners. Before that time the only mode of doing’ this was through the slow and expensive proceedings of the Court of Chancery; and the number of incumbered landlords had grown so very large since the famine began, their debts so overwhelming, and their rental so curtailed, that the London Jews, money-brokers, and insurance offices, required a speedier and cheaper method of bringing their property to the hammer.
What I wish to be fully understood is, that this Act was not intended to relieve, and did not relieve, anybody in Ireland; but that, under pretence of facilitating legal proceedings, it contemplated a sweeping confiscation and new “Plantation” of the Island., The English press was already complacently anticipating a peaceable transfer of Irish land to English and Scotch capitalists; and took pains to encourage them to invest their money under the new Act. Ireland, it was now declared, had become tranquil: “the Celts were gone:” and if any trouble should arise, there was the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act; and the horse, foot, and artillery, and the
Singular to relate, however, the new Act did not operate satisfactorily in that direction. English capitalists had a wholesome terror of Tipperary, and of the precarious tenure by which an Irish landlord holds his life; insomuch that the great bulk of the sales made by the Commissioners were made to Irishmen: – and in the official return of the operations of the court, up to Oct., 1851, I find that while the gross amount produced by the sales had been more than three and a half millions sterling, there had been only fifty-two English and Scottish purchasers, to the amount of £319,486.
Down to the 25th May, 1857, there had been given orders for sale to the number of 3,197: the property had been sold to 7,216 purchasers, of whom 6,902 were Irish the rest English, Scotch, or other foreigners. The estates already sold had brought upwards of twenty millions sterling, which was almost all distributed to creditors and other parties interested. The result to Ireland is simply this about one-fifteenth part of the island has changed hands; has gone from one landlord and come to another landlord: the result to the great tenant class is simply nil.
The new landlord comes over them armed with the power of life and death, like his predecessor: but he has no local or personal attachment which in some cases used to mitigate the severity of landlord, rule; and he is bound to make interest on his investment. The estates have been broken up, on an average, into one-half their former size: and this has been much dwelt upon as an “amelioration:” but I have yet to learn that small landlords are more mild and merciful than great ones. On the whole, I maintain that the “Incumbered Estates Act” has benefited only the money-lenders of England.
As to “Tenant-right,” the salutary custom which I explained before, and which did once practically secure to the tenantry in some portions of Ulster a permanency of tenure on payment of their rent, our Parliamentary patriots have been agitating for it, begging for it, conferring with Ministers about it, eating public dinners, making speeches and soliciting votes on account of it; but they have never made, and never will make, an approach by one hair’s-breadth to its attainment.23 It is absolutely essential to the existence of the British Empire, that the Irish peasant class be kept in a condition which will make them entirely manageable – easy to be thinned out when they grow too numerous, and au available materiel for armies.
This, I say, is necessary to the British commercial and social governmental system – but I do not say it by way of complaint. Those who are of opinion that British civilization is a blessing and a light to lighten the world, will easily reconcile themselves to the needful condition. Those who deem it the most base and horrible tyranny that has ever scandalized the earth, will probably wish that its indispensable prop – Ireland – were knocked from under it.
In the meantime, neither the Incumbered Estates Act, nor any other act, made or to be made by an English Parliament, has done or aimed to do anything towards giving the Irish tenant-at-will the smallest interest in the land he tills; but, on the contrary, the whole course of the famine legislation was directed to the one end of shaking small leaseholders loose from the soil, and converting them into tenants-at-will, or into “independent laborers,” or able-bodied paupers, or lean corpses. Let it be understood, further, that the condition of an Irish “Tenant-at-Will” is unique on the face of the globe,24 is utterly unintelligible to most civilized Europeans, and is only to be found within the sway of that Constitution which is the envy of surrounding nations. The German, Von Raumer, making a tour in Ireland, thus tries to explain the thing: –
“How shall I translate tenants-at-will? Wegjagbare? Expellable? Serfs? But in the ancient days of vassalage, it consisted rather in keeping the vassals attached to the soil, and by no means in driving them away. An ancient vassal is a lord compared with the present tenant-at-will, to whom the law affords no defence. Why not call them Jagdbare (chaseable)? But this difference lessens the analogy that for hares, stags, and deer there is a season during which no one is allowed to hunt them; – whereas tenants-at-will are hunted all the year round. And if any one would defend his farm, (as badgers and foxes are allowed to do,) it is here denominated rebellion.”
In 1849, it was still believed that the depopulation had not proceeded far enough; and the English Government was fully determined, having so gracious an opportunity, to make a clean sweep. One of the provisions of Lord John Russell’s Rate-in-Aid Bill was for imposing an additional rate of two shillings and sixpence in the pound, to promote emigration. During the two years, 1848-9, the Government Census Commissioners admit 9,395 deaths by famine alone; a number which would be about true if multiplied by twenty-five. In 1850 there were nearly 7,000, as admitted by the same authorities; and in the first quarter of 1851, 652 deaths by hunger, they say, “are recorded.”
In the very midst of all this havoc, in August, 1849, her Majesty’s Ministers thought the coast was clear for a Royal Visit. The Queen had long wished, it was said, to visit her people of Ireland; and the great army of persons, who, in Ireland, are paid to be loyal, were expected to get up the appearance of rejoicing. Of course there were crowds in the streets; and the natural courtesy of the people prevented almost everything which could grate upon the lady’s ear or offend her eye. One Mr. Reilly, indeed, of South Great Goerge’s street, hoisted on the top of his house a large black banner, displaying the crownless Harp; and draped his windows with black curtains, showing the words Famine and Pestilence: but the police burst into his house, tore down the flag and the curtains, and thrust the proprietor into gaol. One other incident of the royal visit will be enough: –
“The Freeman says, that, on passing through Parkgate-street, Mr. James Nugent, one of the Guardians of the North Union, approached the Royal carriage (which was moving rather slowly), and, addressing the Queen, said – ‘Mighty Monarch, pardon Smith O’Brien.’ Before, however, he had time to get an answer, or even to see how her Majesty received the application, Lord Clarendon rode up and put him aside; and the cortege again set out at a dashing pace, which it maintained until it drew up opposite the Viceregal Lodge in the Park.”
On the whole, however, the Viceroy’s precautions against any show of disaffection, were, I take shame to say it, complete and successful. Nine out of ten citizens of Dublin eagerly hoped that her Majesty would make this visit the occasion of a “pardon” to O’Brien and his comrades. Lord Clarendon’s organs, therefore, and his thousand placemen and agents of every grade, diligently whispered into the public ear, that the Queen would certainly pardon the State prisoners if she were not insulted by Repeal demonstrations – in short, if there was not one word said about those prisoners. The consequence was that no whisper was heard about Repeal, nor about the State prisoners except only the exclamation of silly Mr. Nugent to his “Mighty Monarch.”
Although there was no chance of Tenant-Right, no chance of Ireland being allowed to manage her own affairs – yet towards Catholics of the educated classes there was much liberality. Mr. Wyse was sent ambassador to Greece: Mr. More O’Ferrall was made Governor of Malta: many barristers, once loud in their patriotic devotion at Conciliation Hall, were appointed to Commissionerships and other minor offices; and Ireland became “tranquil” enough. For result of the whole long struggle, England was left, for a time, more securely in possession than ever, of the property, lives, and industry of the Irish nation. She had not parted with a single atom of her plunder, nor in the slightest degree weakened any of her garrisons, either military, civil, or ecclesiastical. Her “Established Church” remained in full force – the wealthiest church in the world, quartered upon the poorest people, who abhor its doctrine, and regard its pastors as ravening wolves. It had, indeed, often been denounced in the London Parliament, by Whigs out of place: Mr. Roebuck had called it “the greatest ecclesiastical enormity in Europe;” Mr. Macaulay had termed it “the most utterly absurd and indefensible of all the institutions now existing in the civilized world.”
But every one knows what value there is in the liberal declarations of Whigs out of place. Once in place and power, they felt that the “enormity” of the Established Church, absurd and indefensible as it was, constituted one of their greatest and surest holds upon the Irish aristocracy, to whose younger sons and dependants it afforded a handsome and not too laborious livelihood. The Archbishop of Armagh alone continued yearly to receive his £14,664 – almost thrice the salary of the President of the United States; and the Bishop of Derry nearly double as much as the President – and ten other Bishops, emoluments varying from £7,600 down to the lowest, £2,310.
Then every parish must have its “rector,” though in a great many parishes there are no congregations; and the poor Catholic people, over and above rents, rates, and taxes, must pay these sinecure pastors out of their poor stackyards – the remedy for non-payment being distress by the landlord.25 The Orangemen, also, have been maintained in full force. They are all armed: for no Bench of Magistrates will refuse a good Protestant the liberty of keeping a gun; and lest they might not have enough, the government sometimes supplies arms for distribution among the lodges. The police and detective system is more highly organized than ever; and the Government Board of “National” Education, more diligently than ever inculcates the folly and vice of national aspirations.
Yet Ireland, we are told, is “improving” and “prosperous.” Yes; it cannot be denied that three millions of the people having been slain or driven to seek safety by flight, the survivors begin to live better for the present. There is a smaller supply of labour, with the same demand for it – therefore wages are higher. There is more cattle and grain for export to England, because there are fewer mouths to be fed; and England (in whose hands are the issues of life and death for Ireland) can afford to let so many live. Upper classes, and lower classes, merchants, lawyers, state-officials, civil and military, are indebted for all that they have, for all that they are, or hope for, to the sufferance and forbearance of a foreign and hostile nation. This being the case, every one must see that the prosperity of Ireland, even such ignominious prosperity as it is, has no guarantee or security.
Whenever Irishmen grow numerous again (as they surely will), and whenever “that ancient swelling and desire of liberty,” as Lord Mountjoy expressed it, shall once more stir their souls (as once more it certainly will), why, the British Government can crush them again, with greater ease than ever; for the small farmers are destroyed; the middle classes are extensively corrupted; and neither stipendiary officials nor able-bodied paupers ever make revolutions.
This very dismal and humiliating narrative draws to a close. It is the story of an ancient Nation stricken down by a war more ruthless and sanguinary than any seven years’ war, or thirty years’ war, that Europe ever saw. No sack of Magdeburg, or rave of the Palatinate, ever approached in horror and desolation to the slaughters done in Ireland by mere official red tape and stationery, and the principles of Political Economy. A few statistics may fitly conclude this dreary subjects.
The Census of Ireland, in 1841, gave a population of 8,175,125. At the usual rate of increase, there must have been, in 1846, when the Famine commenced, at least eight and a half millions; at the same rate of increase, there ought to have been, in 1851 (according to the estimate of the Census Commissioners), 9,018,799. But in that year, after five seasons of artificial famine, there were found alive only 6,552,385 – a deficit of about two millions and a half. Now, what became of those two millions and a half?
The “government” Census Commissioners, and compilers of returns of all sorts, whose principal duty it has been, since that fatal time, to conceal the amount of the havoc, attempt to account for nearly the whole deficiency by emigration. In Thorn’s Official Almanac, I find set down on one side, the actual decrease from 1841 to 1851 (that is, without taking into account the increase by births in that period), 1,623,154. Against this, they place their own estimate of the emigration during those same ten years, which they put down at 1,589,133. But, in the first place, the decrease did not begin till 1846 – there had been till then a rapid increase in the population: the government returns, then, not only ignore the increase, but set the emigration of ten years against the depopulation of five. This will not do: we must reduce their emigrants by one-half, say to six hundred thousand – and add to the depopulation the estimated increase up to 1846, say half a million. This will give upwards of two millions whose disappearance is to be accounted for – and six hundred thousand emigrants in the other column. Balance unaccounted for, a million and a half.
This is without computing those who were born in the five famine years, whom we may leave to be balanced by the deaths from natural causes in the same period.
Now, that million and a half of men, women, and children, were carefully, prudently, and peacefully slain by the English Government. They died of hunger in the midst of abundance, which their own hands created; and it is quite immaterial to distinguish those who perished in the agonies of famine itself from those who died of typhus fever, which in Ireland is always caused by famine.
Further, I have called it an artificial famine: that is to say, it was a famine which desolated a rich and fertile island, that produced every year abundance and superabundance to sustain all her people and many more. The English, indeed, call that famine a “dispensation of Providence;” and ascribe it entirely to the blight of the potatoes. But potatoes failed in like manner all over Europe; yet there was no famine save in Ireland. The British account of the matter, then, is first, a fraud – second, a blasphemy. The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the famine.
And lastly, I have shown, in the course of this narrative, that the depopulation of the country was not only encouraged by artificial means, namely, the Out-door Relief Act, the Labour-rate Act, and the emigration schemes, but that extreme care and diligence were used to prevent relief coming to the doomed Island from abroad; and that the benevolent contributions of Americans and other foreigners were turned aside from their destined objects – not, let us say, in order that none should be saved alive, but that no interference should be made with the principles of political economy.
The Census Commissioners close their last Report with these words: –
“In conclusion, we feel it will be gratifying to your Excellency, to find, that, although the population has been diminished in so remarkable a manner, by famine, disease, and emigration, and has been since decreasing, the results of the Irish census are, on, the whole, satisfactory.”
The Commissioners mean that the Census exhibits an increase in sheep and cattle for the English market and that while men are lean, hogs are fat. “The good of this,” said Dean Swift – more than a century ago – “the good of this is, that the more sheep we have, the fewer human creatures are left to wear the wool or eat the flesh. Ajax was mad when he mistook a flock of sheep for his enemies; but we shall never be sober until we have the same way of thinking.”
The subjection of Ireland is now probably assured until some external shock shall break up that monstrous commercial firm, the British Empire; which, indeed, is a bankrupt firm, and trading on false credit, and embezzling the goods of others, or robbing on the highway, from Pole to Pole; but its doors are not yet shut; its cup of abomination is not yet running over. If any American has read this narrative, however, he will never wonder hereafter when he hears an Irishman in America fervently curse the British Empire. So long as this hatred and horror shall last – so long as our island refuses to become, like Scotland, a contented province of her enemy, Ireland is not finally subdued. The passionate aspiration for Irish nationhood will outlive the British Empire.
23 Mr. Gladstone’s Law, pretending to secure something like a Tenant-right, is, in fact, only an example and a confirmation of the judgment given in the text.
24 Paralleled in some sort only by the ryots of India – another people privileged to enjoy the blessings of British rule.
25 In the matter of the Established Church, also, the late Gladstone law (“Disestablishment and Disendowment”) is a mere subterfuge and imposture. It has diminished emoluments of some of tin; bishops, but has not relieved the people of any part of this burden on account of that church; no, not to the amount of a single farthing.