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forcing legislation which gave it birth. Education
and intercourse with other countries are slowly, but
we hope effectually, generating in the Irish people
ideas of decency and comfort in the last resort the
only effectual safeguard against the evil of excessive
numbers. The opening of the earlier movement was
marked by a temporary rude abundance, which was
followed by an extraordinary increase of population :
that of the present has been signalized by frightful
but temporary distress ; and a decline of population,
not less notable than the previous increase, has now
set in. These are the salient points on the surface
of Ireland's present condition, and they indicate with
sufficient accuracy the main direction of her industrial



The famine of 1846 is commonly taken as the
turning-point in the industrial history of Ireland. In
fact it has proved so, because the famine precipitated
free trade ; but it is not less true that free trade
would of itself have entailed, though without the
frightful aggravations incident to the sudden failure
of a people's food, all the consequences of a per-
manent kind which we trace to that calamity. All
the leading incidents of the industrial economy of
Ireland as it stood in 1846 were identified with the
maintenance of its tillage system ; and of that system
free trade sounded the inevitable doom.


If these pages should find readers who cherish the
tradition of Protection, they will doubtless regard
this statement as a concession fraught with discredit
to the doctrine of commercial freedom. Here, it will
be urged, is the admission of a Free-trader that free
trade has, in one instance at least, involved, if not
accomplished, the destruction of a nation's industry.
At whatever cost of odium to the doctrine in question,
I am bound to accept the inference as substantially
fair. It is, I hold, indubitably true that the cultiva-
tion of cereals in Ireland on the scale on which it
prevailed anterior to 1846 depended upon Ireland's
being secured in the monopoly of the English markets ;
and this condition free trade forbade. Whether Eng-
land was on this account bound to exclude her own
people from procuring their food where they could
get it cheapest bound to set limits to her own
development in order to find a market for products
unsuitable to the Irish soil is the question which
Free-traders have to meet. For my part I meet
it by denying the obligation. Further, it is a part
of my case that the sacrifice it involved would have
been not less injurious to the country in whose
behalf it was made than to that which was called
to undergo it.

I regard it as a truth placed now beyond the reach
of controversy that the population of Ireland in 1846
was excessive to a most injurious degree, excessive
looking to the actually available resources of the
country to maintain its people beyond any example
afforded by history. Opinions to the contrary effect
have indeed frequently been hazarded, sometimes


even by writers of distinction. M. Gustave de Beau-
mont, for example, in his work on Ireland, expressed
the deliberate opinion that population in that country
has never been excessive, and that there is no reason
in the economic conditions of the case that Ireland
should not contain 25,000,000 of inhabitants. Had
M. de Beaumont reflected that, on this view of the
relation of population to territory, France, whose in-
dustrial capabilities are certainly in proportion to her
area not inferior to those of Ireland, ought to contain
186,000,000 people nearly five persons, that is to
say, for every one who now inhabits that country he
possibly would have paused before giving utterance
to so extravagant an opinion. Speculations which
lead to such results, and which rest neither on expe-
rience, nor on any recognized principles of economic
science, may, I think, be left to find their proper place
in the judgments of unprejudiced men. As a matter
of fact, Ireland in 1846 contained a population denser
than that of most countries in Europe denser, for
example, than that of France, than that of Italy, than
that of the average of the United Kingdom, and than
that of the great majority of the states of Germany.
In three countries only in Europe has the density of
population ever decidedly exceeded that of Ireland in
1846 : and these are England, Saxony, and Belgium,
each commanding, besides a remarkably fertile soil,
manufacturing resources far in excess of any that
Ireland can yet lay claim to.*

* "Histoire de 1'Emigration," par M. Jules Duval, Paris, 1862, pp.
21, 64, 156. Belgium, it seems, is the most densely populated country in
Europe, and in Belgium pauperism claims one out of every five of the
inhabitants. (Ibid., pp. 115, 116.)


And what was the condition of the multitudes thus
crowded together upon Irish soil ? The answer is to
be found in the well-known Report of the Devon
Commission ; but it would be idle now to adduce evi-
dence of a state of things that was long a standing
reproach to the British name. Suffice it to say that
the great majority of this immense population were
existing in the last stage of human wretchedness.
In this condition they were found by the potato
famine, and the long-pending collapse occurred.

Well, what was the cure for the state of things thus
brought about? How was this excess of people to
be remedied ? The school of politicians who adopt
M. de Beaumont's view on this subject would probably
reply, by a suitable development of the industrial
resources of the country ; and this brings us to the
inevitable dilemma in the Irish case. The resources
of the country had already been developed, but deve-
loped in a wrong direction. An erroneous fiscal
code had given encouragement to a system of agricul-
ture wholly unsuited to the country, but which gave
an impulse to population far beyond what a natural
system could support. Was her industry to be urged
still further in this direction ? Was the principle of
Protection to be again appealed to, and England to be
invited to close her markets still more completely
against foreign supplies ? Either this, or it became
necessary to abandon the policy that had brought her
to the present pass. Started on a wrong course, she
had reached the inevitable goal ti\t-cul-de-sac of
Protection : escape could only be found in retreat.
Free trade was thus scarcely a choice. But free trade


once adopted, all the consequences which have since
been realized followed with the certainty of the results
of a physical law.

Let us glance at a few of these consequences. And
first, and most important of all, free trade imperatively
prescribed a large reduction in the numbers of the
Irish people ; for it struck at the root of the large
cereal cultivation by which those numbers were sus-
tained. An agriculture of tillage differs from one of
pasture amongst other things in this, that the capital
which supports it is, for the most part, circulating
exists mainly in the % form of food. Consumed every
year, it is every year reproduced, and is thus available
as a constant fund for the support of population to
nearly the full extent of its actual amount. The
capital of a pasture system, on the other hand, exists to
a large extent in a certain condition of the soil which
yields revenue without any or with little human exer-
tion. It is not yearly consumed to be yearly repro-
duced, and consequently, so far as it takes this form,
it is incapable of supporting population. Now, it was
a system of this kind that over a large part of Ireland
was rendered inevitable by the adoption of a free-
trade policy. The effect, indeed, was not felt at once.
So long as the process of conversion from tillage to
pasture was in operation, the demand for labour, and
with it the circulating capital of the country, would
be maintained unimpaired : but the conversion once
effected the land once brought into the condition in
which it was destined permanently to remain both the
need for labourers and the means for their subsistence
would together suffer decline. Free trade in Ireland,


thus, of necessity throwing the country back, as it
did, on its natural capabilities, which were favourable to
pasture involved as its consequence a diminution in
the number of its people. But other causes, founded
no less than free trade in the irresistible tendencies
of modern civilization, were at this time acting power-
fully in the same direction.


Within a quarter of a century following 1846, more
than two million Irishmen have left the shores of
Ireland never to return. The population of Ireland
under the drain, aggravated by famine and pestilence,
has declined from over eight to considerably under
six millions of people. And yet, despite the lowering
of the head-water, the efflux continues, and, though
in later years partially checked for a season, shows
as yet but few signs of abatement. The pheno-
menon in its actual dimensions is, I believe, unique
in history. Passion and prejudice apart, let us
endeavour to determine the causes and probable
results on the fortunes of Ireland of this momentous

On approaching the problem, the solution which
most naturally suggests itself is misgovernment.
"When the inhabitants of a country," says Mr. Mill,
"quit the country en masse, because its government
will not make it a place fit for them to live in, the
government is judged and condemned." I have no


need to dispute the soundness of this position as a
maxim in political ethics ; but in applying it to the
case in hand, I must remark that, if misgovernment
have produced the spectacle which Ireland now pre-
sents, either it is the misgovernment of a former age,
or else the whole political philosophy of modern times
is in a wrong track. For when we turn to the history
of recent legislation affecting Ireland, what is the scene
that it unfolds ? A long series of measures extending
over half a century, moving steadily in the direction
of liberty, equal justice, intellectual and moral culti-
vation, and industrial development. The penal code
has been abolished. Class ascendency, so long ram-
pant, has been all but overthrown. Catholics have
been emancipated. Municipal corporations have been
reformed, An efficient police has been organized.
A system of popular education, based upon the prin-
ciple of absolute impartiality between different sects,
and having at its disposal the best modern appliances,
has been established. This gift of primary education
has been followed by a provision, founded on the
same principle and carried out with the same efficiency,
for the higher intellectual cultivation. A Poor law has
been passed under which the duties of property
towards poverty have in Ireland for the first time been
recognized and enforced. Medical charities have been
reformed and rendered efficient. The civil service
of the United Kingdom has been thrown open to
the youth of Ireland upon equal terms. Nor have
material interests been overlooked. A Board has
been constituted, charged with the special function of

* [I may now (1873) say "quite."]


guiding and assisting Irish industrial enterprise ; under
its auspices arterial drainage on an extended scale has
been carried out at the expense of the State, and, in
addition, public money to the amount of nearly two
millions sterling has been advanced to individuals on
terms below the market rate for kindred purposes.
A plan for the collection of agricultural statistics an
obvious reform, hitherto attempted in vain in other
portions of the empire has in Ireland been carried
into effect with complete success. Lastly, a new Land
court has been erected, in which, in obedience to the
teaching of a sound political economy, and conform-
ably with the procedure of an enlightened juris-
prudence, the land of the country has been brought
largely into the. market, broken up into comparatively
manageable portions, and transferred from listless and
bankrupt, to solvent and enterprising hands. These
are the salient features of modern Irish legislation. I
do not say they prove that Ireland is now well
governed, that further legislation, and that of a
radical sort, is not needed for her welfare on the
contrary, as will be seen in the sequel, my position
is that such legislation is imperatively required ; * but
the foregoing enumeration justifies me, I think, in
asserting that the misgovernment from which Ireland
is suffering, so far as it is of a positive kind, is not of
recent date ; that the sins of modern legislation against
her have, at the worst, been sins of omission : at least,
if it be otherwise if the enactments just mentioned be
examples of misgovernment then manifestly the poli-
tical philosophy of the present age is at fault.

* [Written in 1866.]


But, in the next place, it must be observed that the
phenomenon with which we have to deal, unless as
regards the exceptional dimensions it has assumed,
is not one peculiar to Ireland. Emigration on a vast
scale is rather a feature of the age than of any par-
ticular country, and has been conspicuously exhibited
by some of the most advanced nations of Europe.
The commencement of the movement, on the scale
which it has assumed in modern times, may be placed
about the end of the first quarter of the present
century. At that time, Great Britain, Ireland, and
Germany the countries in which emigration has
since attained the greatest height did not send forth
from their collective bounds an annual aggregate of
more than 20,000 persons. But from that point the
tide rose, and with such rapidity and power, that
within another quarter of a century, the stream of
20,000 had swollen to 500,000 a magnitude which
it maintained for some six years in succession, and to
which, though it has since considerably declined, there
are symptoms at the present moment that it may
approach once more. The proportions in which the
three countries, Great Britain, Ireland, and Germany,
contributed to the stream when at its highest, were
not very unequal ; they may be taken to be nearly
as follows :

Ireland 210,000

Germany 155,000

Great Britain ...... 135,000


Total annual emigration from the three countries, 500,000
The contribution of Ireland to the movement, com-


pared with its population, is obviously in excess,
of that furnished by the other contributories ; still, it
cannot be denied that theirs is also very large. Nor
have the countries named been the only ones in
which emigration has received an extraordinary im-
pulse in recent years ; in a less degree, but still sen-
sibly, Spain, Belgium, Scandinavia, and even France,
have felt the emigrating impulse.*

With these facts before us, we shall not be disposed
to seek an explanation of Irish emigration exclusively
in local causes. It is plainly part of a larger move-
ment, the result of influences which have made them-
selves felt over the greater portion of Western Europe.
A variety of events at once suggest themselves as con-
nected with this dispersion of population seasons of
dearth, fluctuations in trade, gold discoveries, civil
commotions, foreign wars, notably, just now (1866), an
urgent demand for labour in the United States of


America. Each of these events has no doubt con-
tributed something to the general result ; but causes
of this kind, which have never been absent from the
world, can plainly be no more than secondary,! in
relation to a phenomenon, which, in its actual dimen-
sions at least, is a purely modern one ; it is, therefore,
to modern agencies mainly that we must look for an
explanation ; and amongst these four stand out as of

* " Histoire de I'Emigration," par M. Jules Duval.

f Many will be disposed to place the Australian and Californian gold
discoveries amongst the primary causes of the phenomenon in question.
I have not done so, because, however considerable their effect has been in
attracting emigration and doubtless it has been very considerable I wish
to distinguish what may be regarded as accidents which produce their
effect once for all, from those causes of a permanent kind, the influence of
which, far from declining, must increase from age to age.

P. E. L


prime importance popular education, steam, free
trade, and the progress of colonization.

The influence of education in unsettling population
and impelling it towards new lands, is too plain to
need detailed proof. Kindling among the masses the
desire of bettering their condition, it discloses to them
at the same time a new world of which they had been
before but dimly conscious ; a world where labour
is amply rewarded, where the labourer is liberally
endowed with political power, where a bounteous soil
offers to his grasp that most cherished object of human
yearning a spot of ground which he may call his own.
The vision awakened in the school is kept alive by
the newspaper, and gathers strength from the account
of friends who have tried it and proved it true. The
idea becomes a conviction, the conviction a resolu-
tion, and the die is cast. Popular education has thus
supplied the motive, and steam and free trade have
not less surely furnished the means. It would be
waste of time to enlarge upon a proposition which I
suppose must be admitted as soon as stated. Steam
and free trade have obviously been amongst the most
potent of the agencies to which the unprecedented
expansion of industry and commerce in mocfefn times
is due ; and the expansion of industry and commerce
cannot but facilitate emigration. I have added as
among modern facts bearing upon emigration the
progress of colonization ; for colonization is eminently
one of those undertakings in which the beginning is
more than half the work. Amongst the practical
problems of politics, none, perhaps, is more difficult
than to found a colony. Rarely has success been


accomplished except through straits in which the
pioneers of civilization have been called upon to
endure all the extremes of suffering. But settlement
once effected, the foundation once laid, the subsequent
building up of colonies is an easy task. The emigrant,
on his arrival, finds himself at once in the midst of the
comforts of a well-ordered society, and enters forth-
with into the realization of his dreams. Emigration


thus becomes less repulsive as colonization extends.
A wider area of choice is opened up to the dissatisfied
denizens of the old world ; and there exist fewer
drawbacks to the golden prospects which lure them
from their homes.

The result may be stated in a few words : under
the old-world rule, when the masses were shut up in
ignorance, when surplus wealth, from the inefficiency
of productive processes, was small, when industry was
artificially organized, and commerce fettered, when
vast regions of the globe were still in the possession
of savage man, civilization rallied to a few favoured
centres, around which clustered excessive popula-
tions : but a new epoch has opened, and agencies
unknown in former times have brought the unsettled
portions of the earth into immediate, sensible, and
practical competition with those which are already
occupied. The result cannot be doubtful : there must
henceforward be a greater dispersion and mixing of
populations, and a greater equalization of the condi-
tions of wealth. It will no longer be a few favoured
and conveniently situated spots on the earth's surface,
but the whole earth, that will be turned to the
purposes of man.

L 2


Such appear to me to be the leading causes of a
general kind that have given that impulse to emi-
gration on a vast scale which is undoubtedly one of
the most remarkable facts in the present condition of
the civilized world. It will scarcely be denied that,
so far as emigration is traceable to these causes, it is
due, not to misgovernment, but to improved govern-
ment, or rather in tkit a slight degree to government
at all, and mainly to the progress of human intelli-
gence and human well-being. The causes which I
have enumerated are all inherent in the present
state of civilization ; and emigration, so far as it is
a feature of the age, is thus a sign, not of decline
but of advance evidence, at once practical and
conclusive, that the world is moving onward

" Through the shadow of the globe we sweep into the
younger day."

Nor will it be denied that these causes have all been
in operation in Ireland. The national system of edu-
cation a system under which Roman Catholics and
Protestants are invited to come together and receive
beneath the same roof those common elements of
secular and moral instruction the value of which is
recognized by all Christian denominations alike has
brought knowledge on easy terms to the poorest of
the peasantry. From being perhaps the most ignorant
population' in Europe ignorance which was no fault
of theirs, but in which they had long been com-
uhDrily kept by an atrocious system of penal
legislation the Irish have become, in the course of
a generation, educated at least up to the English
popular standard. In the national schools their


children have learned the English language : * they
have also learned geography, and have heard, most
of them for the first time, of a great country, teeming
with riches, within a fortnight's sail of their coasts.
What more natural than the desire to reach this land
of promise ? The march of industry and commerce in
Ireland has not indeed kept pace with that witnessed in
the more advanced European countries ; nevertheless,
as will presently be shown, industrial and commercial
progress even in Ireland has been real and consider-
able; and, what is more to our present purpose, so far
as the facilities for emigration are concerned, Ireland
has enjoyed all the benefits of the more rapidly ex-
panding commerce of the Empire. The increased
intercourse of England with the outer world is directly
available for the Irish peasant, who has thus brought
within his reach the most widely ramified system of
international communication and the cheapest navi-
gation in the world. The practical result is this. In
1825 the cost of a passage to America was not less
than 20. So late as 1845 the Land Occupation
Commissioners considered the high rate of fares as
the chief obstacle to emigration. But since that time
the passage-money has been reduced to ^10, to 6,
to ^"5. In the spring of 1863 steamboats were carry-
ing passengers from the Irish ports to New York for
j4 15^. per head, and sailing vessels for 2 \js. 6d.
The road thus smoothed, and aspiration thus awa-
kened, a new accessory to the movement has been

* The number of the Irish who could speak Irish only was in 1822
(according to the estimate of the Irish Society) 2,000,000. In 1851 this
class had (as ascertained by the Census) fallen to 319,602, and in 1861
to 163,276. (Hancock's Report, &c., p. II.)


developed through the connection of the emigrants with
those whom they had left behind. Their prosperity
has at once justified their conduct in the eyes of their
friends at home, and enabled them to furnish those
friends with the means of following their example.
It is an honourable and hopeful trait of the emigration
that, through the liberality springing from family affec-
tion, it has become an entirely self-supporting move-
ment. In 1847 ^"200,000, it has been estimated,
reached Ireland from America with this destination;
in 1853 the remittances rose to a million and a half.

It must then, I think, be admitted that there are
other causes than " misgovernment " at the root of
the Irish emigration : nevertheless, I do not mean
to deny, under the reserve I have indicated, that
" misgovernment" is also a cause. The circumstances
which I have enumerated account for emigration
from Ireland ; they do not account for the -exceptional
and extraordinary dimensions which Irish emigration
has assumed ; they do not tell us why it has become
an " Exodus." To understand this we must take
account of causes of repulsion as well as of causes
of attraction ; of the impossibility of remaining as
well as of the facilities for going : we must combine

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Online LibraryJohn Elliott CairnesPolitical essays → online text (page 11 of 27)