« FöregåendeFortsätt »
rods, suspended over the heads of the seditious leaders. The sword, indeed, hangs by a thread ; but it falls not; whilst the terror of its fall restrains the audacious. The greater portion of the blasphemous and seditious publications has nearly disappeared. If some still continue to insult the morals and good sense of the people, the resort to juries is become safe and certain. The most perilous and malignant of these libellers has become a commentator on Swedish turnips and Leghorn bonnets. In a word, at no period, perhaps, is the public tranquillity throughout England and Scotland more firmly settled than at the present. Others are suffering, and it may be added, without compassion from any quarter, the just retribution for their audacious wickedness, under the verdicts of their countrymen. In no single instance whatever, within the last four years, has government failed in its resort to juries, whether in prosecutions for treason, libel, or seditious misdemeanor ; whether for the consummation of the crime in its first form, or for its origination in the latter.
It is impossible, indeed, not to congratulate the country upon the restoration of internal order. If one branch of our industry is necessarily suffering under national and accidental causes ; if the surplus produce of two or three years of agriculture be still acting in England as in France, and depressing the price of corn in the market; all the parties concerned in its sale or growth still do justice to the laws and government of the country, and impute not the necessities of nature to the negligence of ministers. They all recognise with the report of the Agricultural Committee, that protection cannot be carried further than prohibition. It cannot enter into the mind of any of them, that government can force the consumption of the country. Every reasonable expectation will be satisfied by the economy and retrenchments now in progress. It can never become the wish of an honest and intelligent people to put into peril the immediate safety of the nation; and, assuredly, the integrity of its future means of defence, by the momentary admission of any proposition affecting the public faith. What interest could promise itself a moment's safety, under the general convulsion which would follow the disturbance of property, as sacred as the title of the lands? Parliament has a natural power, and parliament has a moral power. Its natural power is to do any thing : its moral power is to act only according to the obligations of justice. Parliament, therefore, has no power to cancel obligations of this kind. But are we not here fighting shadows ? Under our most confirmed confidence in the honor of the country, we sincerely believe that we are ; and that no proposition of this kind has any chance of finding such support as to render it an object of momentary apprehension. The example of the United States of
America will not here be lost upon us. In the year 1819, when her revenue had fallen from thirty-six million dollars to seventeen millions; a fall equivalent to the reduction of our own total income from fifty-six millions to twenty-five ; and when, under these circumstances, there was a faint proposition about reducing the interest of the national debt, the government and congress rejected it with indignation. As respects ourselves indeed, could the proposal only be made; could the mere mention in Parliament only be admitted, without causing such a panic, and thereupon such a violent reduction in the price of stocks, as would at once introduce general disorder and ruin? One act of meditated violence would lead in the instant to the necessity of another, and a law must be passed to prevent the sale of stock in the interval between the discussion and settlement of the question. Whilst France is paying more than six per cent. upon her national stock, and whilst her security is such as it actually is, what could prevent the stockholders, under the starting of such a proposition, from the instant transfer of their funds ? But it is unpleasant to any mind of due feeling to dwell upon the bare probability of a measure of this kind. In regular governments, there is no gradation of value in the titles of property. All titles in the eye of political justice are the same; they all rest alike on the faith and integrity of the laws of the country
But enough upon this point. We rest assured, that they were not mere words of course, which, upon the close of the session of parliament in the year 1819, the speaker of the House of Commons so eloquently addressed to His Majesty—“We feel satisfied, that at this period, and at every other, there is no difficulty which the country will not encounter, and no pressure to which she will not willingly and cheerfully submit, to enable her to maintain, pure and unimpaired, that which has never yet been shaken or sullied her public credit, and her national good faith.”
As regards the particular measures which are connected with the improvement and maintenance of the internal order of the kingdom, and which may, therefore, more properly fall under this part of our subject; the principal are the acts for maintaining the due administration of law in Ireland; the encouragement of fisheries and public works, for the employment of the poor; the revision and consolidation of the laws affecting the clergy; the prison discipline, the gaol consolidation, and police bills. To which may be added, several minor measures, either immediately introduced by government, or most cordially supported by the ministers, in aid of the internal order and economy of every part of the United Kingdom.
Of these objects, the first in importance, is the improvement and restoration of the due administration of law in Ireland. As the magistracy of Ireland have an immediate official correspondence with the Irish secretary, and, through him, with his Majesty's Secretary for the Home Department, the fuilest memorials of its actual condition were, of course, transmitted to this latter office. It is only justice to the minister of that department to state, that all these memorials received his most anxious attention. The representations froin all quarters were duly weighed and considered ; a work of incredible difficulty, as will appear from a very summary abstract of their substantial proposals and complaints.
In proceeding with this brief exposition, it must be again premised, that the object of these observations is a defensive statement, to which a liberal latitude must be necessarily given. Far, very far, is it from our purpose to sow any seeds of distrust and discontent between any classes of men. But it must be allowed to the friends of his Majesty's ministers to repel any unjust imputation upon the government of the country, though with the effect of transferring it in some degree to individuals, who inconsiderately, perhaps, but assuredly, in fact, are the chief causes of their own misfortunes.
The memorials upon the state of Ireland, and upon the actual causes of its internal disorders, comprehend a long list of grievances; the principal of which are, absenteeship, disproportionate rents, the want of all poor laws, the comparatively defective state of industry, illicit distillation, the uneducated state of the poor, superabundance of population, and the want of employment. To which
may be added, as two of these heads of complaint in point of fact, (whether just or unjust) the inefficiency of the local magistracy and police, and the want of a permanent Insurrection act.
The first complaint, therefore, according to these channels of representation, is the mischief of absenteeship, as it is termed, by which they mean the non-residence of the landed proprietors, and which non-residence some of the memorialists most absurdly impute to government. In considering this complaint, his Majesty's ministers doubtless saw that the question distributed itself into two points of inquiry; the first, was it a mischief and in what extent; and secondly, did it admit of any remedy on the part of government ?
As to the first of these points, they were probably forced to conclude, that, under the peculiar circumstances of Ireland, the question admitted of no doubt. It could not escape their observation, that absenteeship existed to a most enormous extent, and that it was, and is, productive, in a very great degree, of the continuing misery and distress of the people. In a rich, active, and indusVOL. XX.
NO. XXXIX. E
trious country like England, where agriculture, commerce, and manufactures exist in such an extent, as to afford occupation to the population, in a ratio nearly co-extensive with its amount, the absence of a few hundred landed proprietors is of no national importance. They are not the chief customers of the national agriculture, commerce, and manufactures. England works for the civilised world, and not merely for its own country gentlemen. Accordingly, the casual absenteeship of English gentlemen, in the course of their travelling, or long abode abroad, is totally without effect upon the large subject matter of English consumption. The withdrawing of their expenditure is like the abstraction of a drop from a running stream, and, in a national consideration, is wholly without any momentary importance. But, in a country like Ireland, where there is so little of commerce and manufactures, and a most imperfect and narrow agriculture, the system of absenteeship, is necessarily productive of extensive mischief. It is the absence of the national protectors, benefactors, and sole employers of the great body of the nation. It is the withdrawing of a large demand for labor, from a country which requires that demand in every possible shape. It reduces, and has reduced, the Irish poor to a similar state with what was the condition of the English poor in the age of Henry the Eighth, and in the early part of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, when the suppression of the monasteries turned them loose upon the nation at large, and rendered necessary the enactment of the poor-laws. It spreads hopeless poverty, irremediable ignorance, and barbarous ferocity, through the population. It substitutes the interested overseer, the avaricious, or at least trading, middle-man, the ignorant, and therefore comparatively unfeeling factor and agent for country gentlemen and landlords, whose interests, education, and habits, would lead them to the improvement and assistance of their tenants, and of the peasantry in their neighbourhood or estates. It nearly eradicates charity, the last refuge of the poor and miserable. As regards this head of complaint, and its effect upon Ireland, it can scarcely therefore be contended, that the complaints of absentee landlords, and of the evils thereby caused, are overcharged.
The next alleged evil in these memorials was in the oppression of the poor tenants, and of the poor in general, by rents enormously disproportionate to the value of the land. This, up to a certain extent, is true, and is likewise a peculiar evil in the condition of the Irish. In England the price of labor, and the wages of all kinds of industry, necessarily keep down the price of land to the level of its actual worth, and accordingly, as we see under present circumstances, any demand of extravagant rents would remedy itselfno one would give it. The answer would be, I make more by
my daily labor as a husbandman, a manufacturer, or an artizan. But in Ireland, where there is no such demand for labor in agriculture, manufactures, or internal industry, the poor laborer has no choice—he must procure his quarter of an acre of ground for potatoes, or he must starve. Every poor Irishman is in the same need and in the same condition ; they accordingly bid each against the other, and their necessity and their competition have enormously increased the price of land. Again, as population always keeps pace with the quantity of food upon which life can be sustained, and as an acre of potatoes (however miserable such kind of food may be) will feed twice the number of human beings which an acre of wheat will feed, the Irish poor go on daily increasing, and more distressed objects are daily growing up to bid against those already in the market, and to effect still further this ruinous subdivision of the land into small portions and patches. Every patch, in fact, thus produces a new family; every member of a family a new patch and so on. Hence an enormous population, and an enormous rent for these small divisions. Hence a country covered with beggars—a complete pauper-warren. Under this' head of grievance it was equally impossible to insist that the statement was much overcharged; but what remedy did this admit on the part of government? If, by the fundamental principles of our constitution, every individual amongst us is the uncontrolled master of his own person, except when the state requires his service under an obligation common to all classes of subjects, still more is he master of his own property. A particular law against personal liberty, or a particular statute against the unqualified dominion of a proprietor over his own property, would be alike an invasion of the first principles of our constitution. Under these principles, the two first heads of complaint-absenteeship and high rentsadmitted but the same answer; they belong to manners, and not to laws; to the native local gentry, and not to the United Parliament.
The third alleged cause is the want of employment and of capital; the absence of almost all manufactures but linen; and the comparatively defective state of industry. It was equally impos. sible to deny the existence of this head of causes ; but it is at least equally absurd to impute the existence of this condition to government. In England, the employment of the poor is distributed through agriculture, commerce, manufactures, internal trade, the mechanic arts, and the supply of the large consumption of a highly civilised, rich, and luxurious people. The circulating capital of the country may possibly employ about three-fourths of its laboring population; the income of accumulated capital, expended only in consumption, affords nearly a full employment to the remainder. In Ireland, the amount of capital circulating in trade is assuredly very