Letter I

United Irishman, 26 February, 1848.

You are now, I hope, in high delight with your situation and prospects, your ‘Tenant- Leagues’ and your ‘Tenant-Right’ meetings; your legal and constitutional resolutions at Kilmacthomas and Kilkenny, at Derry and Monaghan;—your petitions to ‘Parliament’ for what you called ‘Bills,’ and the hustings harangues of candidates on the ‘ Tenant- Right’ speculation,—have brought you so far. Here you have your ‘Bill’ at last.

Surely you have reason to be thankful that you did not listen to the advice of ‘seditious persons,’ who declared that you should look no longer to the legal petitioning ‘patience and perseverance’ method of establishing your rights. You must now feel grateful to the worthy Sharman Crawford who, in his speech at Coleraine, lately, so earnestly cautioned you against those seditious persons, and more especially against me by name! You see, too, how that worthy gentleman is borne out in the House of Commons by Mr. Herbert, a great Kerry squire, who quotes his Coleraine speech with approbation, as proving ‘that the interests of the tenants are jeopardized by those who make extravagant demands on their behalf, in connexion with seditious and dangerous projects,’—meaning my projects. You see now what a danger you have escaped! And the same landlord Herbert, in order to show the atrocious nature of these projects, tells of a certain ‘member of the Irish Council,’ meaning me ‘who not only defined what Tenant-Right was, but told them what the effect of it would be:—the effect, it was said, would be the transfer of property from the owner to the occupier’—Oh, horrible! The House was scandalized, as well it might be, at such an idea; and you are expected to congratulate yourselves that you gave no quarter to so sacrilegious a thought, but trustfully committed yourselves to the peaceful ways of the constitution, and the legislation of ameliorating landlords. Whereof I most heartily wish you joy.

But enough of this mocking vein. You are probably in a serious mood; and I have some serious words to address to you. First, however, let me confess that I am quite as ‘seditious’ a person as the old lady who represents Rochdale describes me;—that my projects are no less ‘dangerous’ than landlord Herbert fears;—that I do actually hold the life and property of a working man as sacred as the life and property of any squire in Ireland (than which no sedition can be blacker);—and that I did indeed propose to certain landlords in the Irish Council that they should once for all acknowledge in the tenant-class a right of perpetual ownership in the soil, subject to a fair rent; and as landlord Herbert vouches that my speech on that occasion was a speech of ‘considerable ability,’ I will just, before going further, quote a few passages of it for you as I find it in the newspapers: —

‘The very best devised scheme of compensation for future improvements, whereby farmers may possibly create a property to themselves hereafter, and a substantial Yeomanry may arise in future ages, will not save the present occupying tenant-farmers from eviction and destruction—will not save the property and industry of Ireland from being swallowed up by the ever-deepening and widening vortex of national pauperism. It would not prevent or even check that frightful operation described here on Thursday, by the hon. member for Clare, the operation of ‘passing pauper through the workhouse’—that is, walking farmers off their lands, locking up their doors, quenching their fires, driving them in shoals into the throat of this insatiable poor-law, and flinging them out from thence landless, homeless, desperate beggars—a terror and scandal to society, and a burden to the very earth. Thus, every scheme for what is called the amelioration of this country, seems based on the assumption that the first thing to be done, is to weed the Irish population out of the Irish soil. Pauper labour, pauper farms, pauper schools of industry, pauper life, and pauper spirit—these are the basis on which our law-makers would have us re-construct society in this island.

It is tenant-right alone that can stay this plague. There is no doubt that the acknowledgment of such a right in the tenants would virtually give them a joint proprietorship in the fee-simple of the land, and might therefore be called, to some extent, a transfer of property. But if, at the same time, it stimulated industry, greatly increased production, and added immensely to the national wealth, then it can be easily conceived how it would add to the substantial wealth of the landlord, as well as of the tenant, making the latter an independent man, without taking a farthing from the rent of the former. In fact, all this does take place in Ulster; and there, where the tenant’s possession will sell for half the fee-simple value, or more, the landlord has, on an average, quite as high a rent as in other provinces, and infinitely better secured. In tenant-right is security against universal national pauperism and confiscation. And what a blessed exchange this would be! I hold it to be the most signal and fundamental mistake ever committed in legislation since the beginning of the world, that of acknowledging a right to relief in an able-bodied pauper—an able-bodied idler. I maintain that a man has a right to live by the sweat of his brow, and not otherwise; and that it is the duty of society—that is of the State—to secure him fair play, a fair field for his honest labour, and no more. And in Ireland the only available field is the land. Set that free—disenchant the soil— enfranchise industry, and let it loose upon its natural element, and you abolish able-bodied pauperism and out-door relief at once.’

These are the ‘seditious projects’ which disgust squire Herbert. It is further quite true that I did afterwards write a letter wherein I said the only method of establishing ‘Tenant-Right’ is by ‘the determined public opinion of armed men.’ And, lastly, it is true that I have habitually made light of all constitutional agitation and parliamentary palaver on the subjects of Tenant-Right, and more especially of the eternal ‘Bills.’ So that in the matter of ‘sedition’ I am fully as bad as I have been described, if not a good deal worse. Yet I have some hope that you will listen a little to me now. There stands your legal and constitutional Bill, a Bill brought in by a most ‘liberal’ Government, introduced by a most conciliatory statesman. You see now what the ‘law’ is going to do for you; and you are probably aware, at last, that your alternative is, Sedition, or Starvation.

Yes the truth must be told, you are to be slain, one million of you—and these ‘laws’ are the weapons wherewith execution is even now going on; Those of you who have property are to render it up, and die—those who have none are simply to die. Will you give up your properties and your lives? Or if not, how will you save them?

Now, friends, I think I hear some genteel patriot saying to you, meet, agitate, make your voice be constitutionally heard in the parliament! Organize, educate, conciliate. Place yourself in the hands of Sharman Crawford, and he will contrive you another dreary Bill and after he has bored the house with it for half a dozen Sessions, the survivors of you will see what will come of it; but take care, the genteel patriot will say that you do nothing to repel or alarm the better classes; after a while they will be flocking to your ranks for nationality; remember that without them you are but a vile ‘mob;’ and, above all, beware, beware of sedition, privy conspiracy, and rebellion!

A genteel slave!—who ought to be brained with his lady’s fan.

There will not much longer, I think, be toleration for drivelling of this sort; you are by this time aware, I trust, that all ‘laws,’ law-givers, constituted authorities, thrones, dominations, princedoms, virtues, and powers in this land are against you, and will be against you; but the question comes back—if agitating and petitioning a foreign parliament be useless, then what are you to do?

First, there is a simple calculation to be made;—you, the men doomed to destruction, are a million and more —they, the landlords of Ireland, who find you to be surplus, and declare that you and they cannot live together on this soil, are, we will say, eight thousand—that is, one well-born idler to one hundred and twenty-five working drudges, nearly. And to keep this well-born idler in the position he ‘has a right to expect,’ the hundred and twenty-five workers are to perish. Here is strictly an economic question (Political Economy for the million); and it may be stated thus—are the eight thousand idlers worth keeping at this expense?—do they pay?—or is there any cheaper mode of keeping them?

In the meantime, it appears plain, from all authorities, that there is a ‘surplus’ either of the one class or the other;—you, the million, seem pitted in deadly struggle against them, the eight thousand; and either you or they, it is feared, must die.

But it is a great truth, ‘that the Life of one peasant is as precious as the Life of one nobleman or gentleman.

Letter II

United Irishman, 4 March, 1848.

In my last letter I proved to you that, in the opinion of your rulers, there are at least one million of your class too many now alive upon this island, including women and children. That is a full million still, after all that the Famine, the Typhus, and the Law have already killed. I have explained to you the calculation by which the better classes’ and the English, between them, have determined, or very nearly, the exact numbers necessary to be slain; showed you how their laws, their commissions, their boons and good measures have been working systematically to that end; and especially pointed out how the new Landlord and Tenant Bill is the most deadly weapon yet contrived for your plunder first, and slaughter afterwards insomuch that where the Famine slew thousands, the Bill will slay tens of thousands.

Their intention is to rob you, and to murder you, and to divide the spoil between the Irish landlords and the English Government. This is their intention; and you may as well look it steadily in the face at once.

What you have to do, we are now to consider; and the very nature of the peril itself suggests the method of resistance. For why are you surplus? Why must a million or more of you be slain? Why? It is not that Ireland does not produce enough to sustain all her people; it is not that you do not raise, with your own hands, far more than enough to support you and your families. It is because—and only because—out of your harvests and haggards the English claim a tribute, the state claims taxes, and the landlords claim rent—all enormous in amount, and all prior to your claim for subsistence. You must pay them all before you touch a grain; they have ‘law’ for it.

The plain remedy for all this,—the only way you can save yourselves alive,—is to reverse the order of payment; to take and keep, out of the crops you raise, your own subsistence, and that of your families and labourers, first; to part with none until you are sure of your own living,—to combine with your neighbours that they may do the like, and back you in your determination,—and to resist, in whatever way may be needful, all claims whatever, legal or illegal, till your own claims are satisfied. If it needs all your crop to keep you alive, you will be justified in refusing and resisting payment of any rent, tribute, rates, or taxes whatsoever.

This is the true doctrine of Political Economy. All economists write that the rent of land, for instance, is the overplus, remaining after the cost of labour and the reasonable profit of the farmer.

The learned Malthus (no friend of yours, I can tell you,) defines it thus (Principles of Political Economy): ‘That portion of the value of the whole produce, which remains to the owner of the land, after all the outgoings belonging to its cultivation, of whatever kind, have been paid.’

The chief outgoing belonging to cultivation is the subsistence of the cultivators,—and if anything be sought in the name of rent before that is provided for, it is not rent, but plunder and ought to be resisted.

In one word, whatever is needful to be done in order to enable you to consume, in security, as much of your own produce as will keep soul and body together that you must do.

But I am told it is vain to speak thus to you; that the ‘peace policy’ of O’Connell is dearer to you than life and honour—that many of your clergy, too, exhort you rather to die than violate what the English call ‘law,’—and that you are resolved to take their bidding. Then die—die in your patience and perseverance; but be well assured of this, that the priest who bids you perish, patiently amidst your own golden harvests, preaches the gospel of England, insults manhood and common sense, bears false witness against religion, and blasphemes the providence of God.

I will not believe that Irishmen are so degraded and utterly lost as this. The earth is awakening from sleep: a flash of electric fire is passing through the dumb millions. Democracy is girding himself once more like a strong man to run a race; and slumbering nations are arising in their might, and ‘shaking their invincible locks.’ Oh! my countrymen, look up, look up! Arise from the death-dust where you have been lying, and let this light visit your eyes also, and touch your souls. Let your ears drink in the blessed words, ‘Liberty! Equality! Fraternity!’ which are soon to ring from pole to pole.

Pray for that day: and preserve life and health, that you may worthily meet it. Above all, let the man amongst you who has no gun, sell his garment, and buy one.