From The Nation, 21 August, 1847.
MY SURPLUS BRETHREN,
Most of you are not aware of the very gross nature of the mistake which, it can be proved, was committed by Divine Providence in bringing you and me (say two millions of us Irishmen) into the world. There may be, indeed, a general feeling amongst you that you have little business here; but, not having studied the writings of the learned so much as you ought to have done, you cannot scientifically know, you cannot argumentatively demonstrate, how the account exactly stands, – how many more than enough have been born alive into this island, how one may know then, and what ought to be done with them by the lucky fellows who are not surplus.
Now, my worthy superfluous friends, I have had the advantage of perusing books on the noble science of “political economy” – a science in which we are all vitally interested; – and I hope to prove to you that the old saying “God never sends mouths but he sends meat to feed them” – is a popular fallacy, and has long since been exploded by the most esteemed writers “of the day,” as not only false, but seditious, if not blasphemous. It is not, I confess, a mere desire to diffuse useful knowledge that prompts me: – I want to rise out of the surplus into the ”legitimate” class – the word, legitimate! – I want to become enfranchised of the air, the earth, and the sunshine; – and I know that if I can prove to you that you are surplus – can make you feel that you are intruding, and are bound in common honesty to take yourselves out of the way – I know, if I can do this service for my legitimate brethren, they will not only allow my name to be put upon Nature’s relief-books, but will acknowledge me to be one of the greatest benefactors of the human race.
As for you, my unnecessary friends, I trust you will listen to reason, and be open to conviction.
In the first place, then, you will, of course, admit that the choicest blessings and noblest aims of mankind are Commerce and Money – a free and enlightened Commerce, whereby the products of the earth and of human industry are universally exchanged, circulated, ventilated, and kept travelling, by rail, by steam, by wind and water, over the globe, – to the end that large capitals may be accumulated, and savage nations may be civilised and enlightened.
Another principle which I must require you to admit (for unless plain axioms be acknowledged, there is no use in reasoning with you at all,) is this – In an agricultural country, like Ireland, the larger the farms, the better. For the larger the farms, there is the greater economy of labour; the more can be done by horse-work and steam, and there is the larger produce at the less expense: – and, of course, the more produce there will be to circulate and set a-travelling, by rail, steam, wind, and water, the more dividends, the more freights, – in short, the more Commerce and Money.
If you still hesitate to admit the axiom that the larger farms can be made the better, suffer me to put the matter before you in another light. If Ireland were divided into ten-acre, fifteen-acre, and twenty-acre farms – every man living with his family on the produce of his own land and labour – there would be very little need of Money at all; and as for our Commerce it would be as good as annihilated. It is true the land would then produce more food than it produces now, but not more in proportion to the expense of cultivation, and there would not be so much “surplus produce” for Commerce – which is the main point. It is true you might in that case all find room to live, and even to rear families in comfort; – but then the food you raised, you would wantonly devour; Capital would be never the better for you; Commerce would languish; Ships might be burned or hauled up high and dry; – and then, who would civilise the East? How would the Chinese get ameliorated? How – but I will not pursue this argument further; I will not believe that you are such barbarians as to wish for the decline of civilisation, – such Atheists as to put yourselves in the way of the spread of English Commercial Christianity.
But after all, some of you will say (for I know your surplus selfishness), “After all, were it not better for a country to have hundreds of thousands of warm homesteads, and well-tilled farms, with hundreds of thousands of families living in peace on the produce of their own industry, and blessing the Giver of all Good, – even though there should not be so much to spare for Commerce, than to have great tracts of country tilled by horses and steam with the fewest labourers possible, and to see millions of human beings, after being cast out like weeds, wandering over the country under the name of surplus, or paupers, hungry, houseless, and desperate, a burden to themselves and to the world?” Thus undoubtedly some of you will argue.
But the fallacy of this reasoning is easily shown; and it consists in your forgetting my very first axiom – The great end and aim of Man is Commerce and Money. It is not to make the greatest possible number of independent citizens and “happy families,” that society and government have been constituted; it is to promote Commerce and facilitate the accumulation of Capital. Never forget this.
Well, then, I take it as sufficiently proved that the larger farms in Ireland are, the better – from which it follows that holdings ought to be consolidated, villages ought to be ploughed over, and those persons whose labour cannot be utilised ought to be cleared off. These form the “Surplus Population” of Ireland, whom I have now the honour to address.
You may be surprised to hear of a country having, at one and the same time, a “surplus produce” and a “surplus population” – too much food for its people, and too many people for its food. Your surprise arises from ignorance of the great principles of political economy. All produce that can be spared for export is, in the technical language of that science, “surplus;” and all people who cannot get profitable employment are also “surplus.” By “profitable employment” science means not what is profitable to the persons engaged in it, with reference to their own comfort and independence, but what is conductive to the great object of enlightened society, Capital and Commerce. If you think of this for a little, you will easily understand how it may even come to pass that the more surplus there is of food, the more there is of people too; the more people you have to spare, the more food you have to spare; so that in Ireland at this day nearly one half, both of the produce and of the people, is surplus.
“Then let the surplus people eat the surplus food,” I know some of you will say this. Ah! my friends, I know your seditious hearts; – I have even said the like myself when I was as you are now, a daring conspirator against life and property. But I have now better thoughts and better hopes. Oh! my surplus brethren, beware of sedition, privy conspiracy, and rebellion! Would you invade the constitution? Would you – superfluous knaves that you are – upturn society from its roots? Would you, merely to prevent being hunted to death yourselves, disorganise civilised and commercial society?
No, no. The surplus produce must go away in ships as usual, and will furnish funds, “under the blessing of Heaven,” as General D’AGUILAR says, to materially ameliorate Eastern nations; and then comes the question – What is to be done with you?
This is a question which some of the most enlightened philanthropists of “the day” are anxiously striving to solve. And it would do your hearts good to hear the conciliatory way they speak of you. You are not too many, they allege, in the abstract; they will not say but that Ireland, under happier circumstances, if her resources were once developed, could sustain eight millions very well, or, for that matter, twenty millions, or any number you like; – but then in the concrete, and in the mean time, you are sadly in the way; – it is for your own good ultimately that you should be thinned and cleared just now. So they speak of you; and then you would be flattered if you but knew the variety of plans they have devised to better your condition, all in some distant quarter of the globe. One gentleman knows a tract of land in South Australia, and also a district in Africa, where you could be very happy; – that is Colonel TORRENS (now one of your legislators). Another suggests that two millions of you should be sent to Canada; and he offers you the consolations of religion there; – that is Mr. GODLEY (not yet a legislator). And a third has taken pains to show you that you are not suited to this country, – that you are exotics here, and would feel yourselves much more at home in the back-woods of America; that is Mr. MURRAY, the intelligent banker, who says that a man whose time is not Money, has no business in a civilised country.
But, unnecessary Irishmen! – I speak to you with the candour of a friend, – whatever be the favourite scheme of each of these philanthropists, they all heartily wish you at the Devil. Any of the schemes would cost money; the spirit of the age is against putting you to death in cold blood; and in short you are the “greatest difficulty” of every statesman who undertakes to govern the country.
Now, my dear surplus brethren, I have a simple, a sublime, a patriotic project to suggest. It must be plain to you that you are surplus, and must somehow be got rid of. Do not wait ingloriously for the famine to sweep you off – if you must die, die gloriously; serve your country by your death, and shed around your names the halo of a patriot’s fame. Go; choose out in all the island two million trees, and thereupon go and hang yourselves.
I remain your true friend, and (as I hope I may now subscribe myself),
AN EX-MEMBER OF THE “SURPLUS POPULATION.”