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the ruling clique in France, have doubtless favoured
the slaveholders' cause ; but the heart of the English
masses, and the convictions of no small number of the
most thoughtful and cultivated Englishmen, have gone
with the Free States ; while the liberal party in France
has almost to a man taken the same side ; as has also,
I believe, in the main, the liberal party in Germany.
It matters not, however, for the present argument, on
which side the larger number of votes has been cast.
It is not desirable in international, any more than in
private affairs, that people should substitute their


neighbours' convictions for their own. What is wanting
is, not that independent nations should take their policy
more especially in regard to domestic concerns from
other nations, but that they should show themselves
alive to the moral judgments respecting their policy
which other nations form that they should recognize
the obligation of justifying their moral position in the
eyes of civilized mankind. This is that which the
people of the Free States have exhibited in a degree
hitherto quite unparalleled, and by doing so have given
to the world a hopeful presage may we not say
an encouraging earnest ? of the growing power of
public opinion in international affairs.

There thus seems reason for believing that all
the leading currents of modern civilization are setting
steadily and rapidly towards the formation of a body
of international opinion which, judging from the
efficacy that opinion has already developed in analo-
gous departments of human life, there is ground for
hoping may ultimately, and at no remote date, become
an effective check on the conduct of nations. If this
view be sound, the direction which our efforts should
take for any radical improvement in the principles
by which the conduct of nations should be governed
is not doubtful. International law must have its
sanctions ; and for these the alternative lies between
fleets and armies and the moral restraints of opinion.
If the enormous armaments which now weigh upon
the physical and mental energies of Europe are ever
to be largely and permanently reduced, this will only
be when the nations of Europe feel secure that those
instruments may be safely dispensed with, which


will happen then and no sooner than when inter-
national opinion is felt to have become strong enough
to perform their part* I have endeavoured to show
that this is not an impossible consummation ; and
this being so, the course for the advocates of peace
and reform would seem to be clear ; it will lie, not in
declaiming against establishments, the evils of which
are felt, but felt also to be necessary, but in cherish-
ing the growth of that innocuous agency which is
destined one day to take their place in cultivating
a sound international opinion. f I have adverted

* With singular want of appreciation, as it seems to me, of the drift of
modern tendencies. Dr. Twiss, the most recent writer in England on
" The Law of Nations," positively refuses to regard any other sanctions
of international law than the physical, apparently for the reason that the
fact that international law carries a physical sanction, constitutes a
ground for regarding it as "law proper." In truth, the criterion wholly
fails in its purpose, unless Dr. Twiss is prepared to consider social con-
ventions also as instances of " law proper ; " these in most parts of the
\vorldbeing, quite as much as international law, upheld by the sanctions
of physical force. Dr Twiss, in contending for this view, deprecates the
opposite doctrine of Austin (according to which international law is
"positive morality merely") as tending to weaken "the ascendency of
Reason over the Will." But what can be better fitted for this end than a
philosophy of international law, which puts altogether out of sight the
moral forces in international affairs ?

f In entire conformity with the practical course here advocated, as well
as with the general line of reasoning pursued in this paper, is the fol-
lowing suggestion from a journal distinguished at once for the firmness
and moderation of its tone on foreign questions, on the most important
international question now pending. The Daily News (October 18, 1865)
writes: " It must be admitted, of course, that 'Her Majesty's Govern-
ment is the sole guardian of its own honour.' But the honour of a nation
is not more precious than the honour of an individual. And in these
days how is it that matters affecting personal honour are settled ? There
was a time when it was thought that satisfaction for an imputation
against a man's personal honour was only to be had by resorting to the
sword or a pair of pistols. But the days of duelling are past. In these
times recourse is had either to a court of law, or more commonly to the
kind offices of mutual friends. And even officers in the British army and


to the various circumstances in modern society which
favour the growth of this power. Its efficacy for
the purpose in view, however, will depend not on
its strength merely, but even more on the unity
of its direction. Nations must agree upon their
mutual duties before opinion can have any effect
in enforcing them ; and for agreement the most
important condition is a simplification of international
questions. Now it happens that the present time

navy readily acquiesce in this modern system. Nor are there many who
fail to acknowledge its advantage. It is, perhaps, difficult to understand
why so excellent a system should be confined to private life. . . . Let
the case of the American Government be submitted by themselves to the
most eminent statesmen and jurists in France, Italy, Germany, Russia,
and the other countries. Let the wisest and ablest men in Europe and
America be asked their opinion upon the case made by Lord Russell on
the part of the British Government, and by Mr. Adams on the part of
the American Government. There is no danger that the oracles would
remain silent, and it is obvious that the opinions thus obtained must
carry weight which would be almost irresistible. To whichever side the
majority of those consulted inclined, it would be well-nigh impossible for
the other side to maintain its position. It is not assumed that either
Government will agree beforehand to be bound by the preponderating
opinion ; nevertheless, it can scarcely be supposed that the people of
America, or the people of England, would permit their ministers to
enforce claims thus condemned by the general consent of the leading

statesmen and jurists of the civilized world Let an appeal be

made to the civilized world. If the opinions delivered by the eminent
men who may be consulted are unanimous, or even if the majority in
favour of either side is very considerable, the matter may be considered
settled. If the opinion of the civilized world is with England, the
British Government and the British people will be justified in resisting
the claims made upon them. If, on the other hand, that opinion is with
the United States, the concessions we may have to make will not only be
without danger ' to neutral nations in all future wars,' but we shall have
the assurance that we have maintained the peace without sacrificing the
national honour."

[The course actually taken in the Treaty of Washington was in its
essential character that which is here recommended ; the chief difference
being that the two Governments did " agree beforehand to be bound by
the preponderating opinion."]


offers singular facilities for an advance towards this
end, in the steady liberation of commerce from
the complicated restraints of the obsolete system of
protection, and in the recent progress of ethical and
juridical philosophy. The elucidation of this aspect
of the subject, however, if it is to be attempted, must
be reserved for another paper.*

* [This purpose the writer was unable to carry out.]




THE feature in the present * industrial condition of
Ireland which first strikes the eye of the most casual
observer, is probably also that which is most pregnant
with consequences for good or evil to her future
fortunes the extensive conversion of tillage-land into
pasture, now rapidly proceeding over the greater
portion of its surface. It may not be generally known
that this is the direct reversal of a change through
which the industry of the country passed rather less
than a century ago. Ireland was then mainly a pas-
toral country. Subsequently, more than half her
cultivable land passed under tillage, mostly under
potatoes and grain ; and she is now reverting to the
condition of pasture once more. It would almost seem
as if the sarcasm of Moore expressed the literal truth,
and that the history of Ireland represented in a minia-
ture scale " the grand periodic year of the Stoics, at
the close of which everything was to begin again, and
the same events to be all reacted in the same order."

* [Written in 1866.]


But before accepting this view, before the present
step can be pronounced to be retrogression, that which
preceded it must be shown to have been progress ; and
this, I apprehend, would be a quite impossible feat.
In fact, the movement in question was a violent diver-
sion of Irish industry from its natural course a diver-
sion from which have directly flowed no small part of
all the most serious evils which Ireland has since
endured. It will here ba worth while to consider
briefly the causes and consequences of that movement
which committed Ireland for a time to the role of a
grain-producing country ; for it will be found to throw
some light on the converse phenomenon now presented
to our view, the character of which it is so important
to understand.

The causes which kept Ireland, down to the middle
of the eighteenth century, in the condition of a pastoral
country are sufficiently on the surface : they lay partly
in the character of her climate "that country," said
the poet Spenser, in the sixteenth century, " is a great
soyle for cattle, and very fit for breed : as for corne
it is nothing natural " partly in the low civilization
of the bulk of her inhabitants, who, thanks to the
wretched misgovernment of England, had, down to
the period we speak of, scarcely risen above the primi-
tive mode of living in which the conquerors found
them. The penal code, too, apart from its general
effects, worked with an especial force in this direction ;
for, while the great majority of the people were pre-
cluded by law from possessing any substantial interest
in land, that mode of industry, in the absence of a
strong bias the other way, would naturally be pre-


ferred which involved the least outlay and needed the
least security. These standing causes were further
enforced by an incident which occurred about a century
ago, and of which we have recently been painfully
reminded the cattle murrain which ravaged England
in 1 760 and the few following years. The high price
of meat, which followed upon this pestilence, encou-
raged in Ireland the enclosure for grazing purposes
of land formerly available as commons for the
peasantry. The operation would seem to have been
conducted on an extensive scale ; for it seems to be
agreed that it furnished the occasion for the outbreak
of " White-boys " or " Levellers " * which occurred
about this time.f But the stimulus thus given to
pastoral industry was quickly counteracted. A group
of causes the same which in a few years changed
England from a corn-exporting into a corn-importing
country were now coming rapidly into play, and soon
not only arrested the movement towards an extended
pasture, but gave a powerful impulse to the cultivation
of grain. The most important of these causes was
the start taken by England in the latter half of the
eighteenth century in manufactures and population,
coinciding as this did with a remarkable succession of


bad seasons causes of dearness which, before many
years, were powerfully seconded by the corn laws, and
ultimately by the French wars, j Under the influence
of these events the price of corn rapidly rose. The
prospect of increased rents was as welcome to Irish

* Of fences, not of social distinctions,
t Lewis on " Irish Disturbances," pp. 8, 9.
J Tooke's " History of Prices," vol. i. chap. 3, 4 and 5.
P. E. K


as to English landlords ; and a series of measures
passed about this time in the Irish Parliament, in the
nature of bounties on the inland carriage and expor-
tation of grain and prohibitions on its importation,
attest their eagerness to improve the occasion. As the
result of the whole, the industry of the country re-
ceived that impulse towards the cultivation of cereals
which continued down to recent times.*

He would have been a bold speculator who should
have ventured a century ago to have called in question
the wisdom of the -course on which the country was
then entering ; for undoubtedly it was in its first
effects advantageous, according to obvious standards,
to every class in the community. It would be plainly
so to landlords and middlemen ; and it was not less
certainly so to the masses ; for it created a rapid in-
crease in the demand for their labour, which continued
without abatement for some generations. The brief
glimpse of prosperity which dawned at this time on the
political fortunes of Ireland it was the era of the
Volunteers was felt also in her material condition ;
and for a time plenty actually reigned in Irish cabins, f

* The movement was in full progress when Arthur Young visited
Ireland. The rapidity with which it proceeded may be judged by the
returns which he furnishes of the sums paid in bounties on the inland
carriage of corn under the Act of 1 762 " one of the most singular
measures that have anywhere been adopted." These, it seems, rose in
the interval between 1762 and 1777 from ,4,940 in the former year to
^61,786 in the latter. Young further remarks that " the increase of tillage
has by no means been in the poor counties by breaking up uncultivated
lands ; on the contrary, it has been entirely in the richest counties in the
kingdom, which confirms the intelligence I received on the journey,
that it was good sheep land that had principally been tilled." Tour in
Ireland, Part II. xviii.

f A statement to the contrary effect is quoted by Sir C. G. Lewis, in
his work on " Irish Disturbances," from a speech of the Irish Attorney-


" Generally speaking, the Irish poor," said Arthur
Young (his visit to Ireland, it will be remembered, was
in 1/77), "have a fair belly-full of potatoes, and the)
have milk the greatest part of the year. . . . Mark
the Irishman's potato bowl placed on the floor, the
whole family upon their hams around it, devouring a
quantity almost incredible, the beggar seating himself
with a hearty welcome, the pig taking his share as
readily as the wife, the cocks, hens, turkeys, geese, the
cur, the cat, and perhaps the cow and all partaking
of the same dish. No man can often have been a
witness of it without being convinced of the plenty,
and, I will add, the cheerfulness that attends it." It
does not give us a high idea of Young's philosophy
that he should have contemplated this scene apparently
with the most unmixed satisfaction, and even con-
trasted it favourably with that presented by the cottage
homes of England. " An Irishman and his wife are

General in 1787. "As to the peasantry of Munster," said the Attorney-
General, "it is impossible for them longer to exist in the extreme
wretchedness under which they labour. A poor man is obliged to pay
6 for an acre of potato ground, which 6 he is obliged to work out with
his landlord for $d. a day." But one or two statements of this kind (and
this is all which Sir C. Lewis's research has discovered bearing on the
period under consideration) cannot be allowed to weigh against such
undisputed and indisputable facts as the extensive conversion of pasture
to tillage which at this time occurred, combined with an unparalleled
increase of population. Between 1767 and 1793 the population of Ireland
must have nearly, if not quite, doubled itself, a feat only possible on
the condition of an abundant supply for its physical wants ; and that
this supply was forthcoming we have the strongly confirmatory, albeit
negative, evidence, afforded by the fact that agrarian disturbances,
strictly so called, ceased in Ireland about the year 1772, and did not
recommence till 1 806. The " Peep-of-day-boys " and " Defenders," who
quickly developed into " Orangemen" and " United Irishmen," and whose
struggles culminated in the rebellion of 1798, were, as Sir C. Lewis points
out, organizations of a religious and political, not at all of an agrarian
character. See Lewis on " Irish Disturbances/' pp. 22, 23, and 36-41.

K 2


much more solicitous to feed than to clothe their
children ; whereas in England it is the reverse. . . .
In England a man's cottage will be filled with super-
fluities before he possesses a cow. I think the com-
parison much in favour of the Irishman. A hog is a
much more valuable piece of goods than a set of tea-
things ; and though his snout in a crock of potatoes is
an idea not so poetical as

' Broken tea-cups wisely kept for show,
Ranged o'er the chimney, glistened in a row/

yet will the cottar and his family find the solidity of it
an ample recompense." * History has not sustained
this verdict. The type of decency has proved to be of
more value in the long run than gross abundance in
which the barn-door fowl, the pig, and the wife share
upon equal terms.

Such a state of things contained precisely those
conditions which are favourable in the highest degree
to the growth of population. All the moral checks on
increase were absolutely removed ; while the physical
checks were scarcely felt to operate. " They say of
marriage," says Bishop Doyle, 4< as of other changes
in life, that it cannot make them worse, but it may give
them a help-mate in distress, or at least a companion
in suffering." t Thus, the more abject the Irishman's

* "A Tour in Ireland," Part II. pp. 21-26.

+ It is but just to Dr. Doyle to add that he admits this to be "a weak
plea," and he would only excuse " the weakness by which it is dictated."
He very sensibly says : " Let, then, the condition of the poor be altered ;
enable them to acquire a competency ; give the parent some means of
providing for his daughter ; give to her a better education and a deeper
sense, not of propriety alone, but of politeness and social decency, and
you will delay marriage, and thereby retard the increase of population
without infringing on virtue." Letters on the State of Ireland, by J. K. L.
pp. 110-112.


condition, the more eagerly did he rush into marriage.
We shall, therefore, not be surprised to learn from
Arthur Young that " marriage is certainly more
general in Ireland than in England ; I scarce ever
found an unmarried farmer or cottar. In England,"
he continues, " where the poor are in many respects in
such a superior state, a couple will not marry unless
they can get a house, to build which, take the king-
dom through, will cost from ^25 to ^60. . . . But in
Ireland the cabin is not an object of a moment's con-
sideration ; to possess a cow and a pig is an earlier
aim ; the cabin begins with a hovel that is erected
with two days' labour, and the young couple pass not
their youth in celibacy for want of a nest to produce
their young in." And, as if the inducements to reck-
less multiplication were not already sufficiently strong,
an Act of the Irish Parliament passed in 1793 the
Act for giving the franchise to forty-shilling free-
holders brought political passions to reinforce the
animal feelings ; for by this measure the political
influence of landlords was made directly to depend
upon the number of human beings amongst whom
their estates were divided. What wonder under such
circumstances that population should have increased
in Ireland at a rate unheard of in old countries ! We
unfortunately possess no accurate returns of the popu-
lation of Ireland anterior to the Census of 1821 ; and
a paper recently published * rather throws doubt on

*" Observations, by W. H. Hardinge, M.R.I. A., on the earliest
known Manuscript Census-returns of the People of Ireland," published in
the "Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy," 1865. According to the
document brought to light by Mr. Hardinge, the total population of the
country in 1659 would be almost exactly half a million. Sir William Petty's


the estimates usually received. These, however, in-
asmuch as they are based on a constant criterion the
number of registered births may still be taken for
the purpose of comparison ; and the illustration they
afford of the results of the social life just described
is sufficiently striking. In 1672 the population of
Ireland, according to these estimates, was 1,320,000;
nearly a century afterwards, that is to say in 1767, it
stood, according to the same authority, at 2,544,000
thus falling short of doubling itself in that period ; but
in 1792 it had increased to 4,088,000, and in 1805 to
5>395>ooo ; in other words, on arriving at the period
when the extensive cultivation of cereals began, the
rate rapidly increased ; the numbers more than
doubling themselves in thirty-eight years. From this
point the beginning of the present century though
at a less rapid rate (for the growing numbers were
already treading close upon the means of support)
the population continued to advance, culminating in
1846, when the catastrophe which had been maturing
through a century suddenly fell.

What is the lesson taught by this retrospect ?
Not, certainly, that an increased demand for the labour
of a people is an evil ; and just as little that cheap
and abundant food is a curse. The language used
by some writers on the subject of the potato * would

estimate for 1672 is 1,100,000 ; Shaw Mason's, quoted by Mr. Thorn,
i ,320,000. These numbers are not reconcilable with any possible rate of
human increase.

* Mr. McCulloch's tirade against the potato is well known. Even
Professor G. Smith takes leave of common sense in his horror at this

excellent root. " Raleigh had introduced the potato the gift,

than which the Archfiend could scarcely liave offered anything more
deadly," &c.


not be more than adequate, if, as Judge Longfield
somewhere remarks, potatoes ate men instead of feed-
ing them. At the worst, the use of potatoes per-
mitted the population to become somewhat more
numerous than it otherwise would have been. The
true sources of the calamities which followed lay,
first, in the purely artificial character of the economy
under which the Irish now came to live ; and secondly,
in the entire absence of any standard of comfort or
decency of anything in short but mere physical
necessity to regulate the growth of the people. By
the former of these causes, the well-being, or rather
the existence of the people came to be identified
with methods of industry entirely unsuited to the
country where they were established, and sure to
be swept away with the progress of civilization ;
and owing to the latter, the numbers supported by
such precarious means were multiplied to the utmost
limits compatible with human existence. The failure
of the potato precipitated the disaster, as the failure
of oats or maize might have done, had either of
these been the main subsistence of a people reduced
to the extreme verge of poverty ; but the seeds
of it were in the nature of the industrial system,
and the habits of the people ; and free trade, even
without the assistance of famine, would inevitably
have undermined the fabric.

Such, as it seems to me, were the leading causes
tracing them no further at present than their
social and industrial manifestations which brought
Ireland to the condition in which the potato famine
found her. The phase through which she is now


passing exhibits a reversal of all the causes from
which that condition grew. A natural agriculture
is taking the place of one, the result of artificial
methods, kept in existence only through the same

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Online LibraryJohn Elliott CairnesPolitical essays → online text (page 10 of 27)