Ratcliffe Hicks.

Speeches and public correspondence of Ratcliffe Hicks .. online

. (page 12 of 18)
Online LibraryRatcliffe HicksSpeeches and public correspondence of Ratcliffe Hicks .. → online text (page 12 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

less freedom of American citizenship.

II. But the one crying evil of the hour, the
ever-present and never-to-be-forgotten misfortune
of Ireland, is landlordism.

Now, what does landlordism mean? It means
this, that less than two thousand men own two-
thirds of all the land in Ireland. On the land
owned by these two thousand men are living five
hundred thousand tenants and over three millions
of people. I can explain this matter no better
than by quoting the spoken words of one of Eng-
land's great statesmen, — a man whose broad sym-
pathies, great learning, and marvellous eloquence
place him in the front rank of the world's great
men. On the i6th Oi November last, at Birming-
ham, England, John Bright spoke as follows : —

" What the tenants want is this : to insure in some
way, by some mode, that when a man has his house
over his head — built by himself, probably, or some pre-
ceding member of his family may have built it — and
his little farm around him, he should not incessantly
be taught that he may any day have notice to quit and
be turned out of his farm and liome ; and that the rent
should not be constantly added to, until even going


out of his farm is a less evil than remaining in it. He
wants some security from the constant torture and
menace of increasing rent which he feels hanging over
him ; and he wants also that there should be some
broad and generous and complete system established
by the government by which land-owners who are will-
ing to sell, of which there must be many now, — that
where land-owners are wilHng to sell (and there are
many at all times), and where tenants are able and
willing to buy, then, through the instrumentahty of a
government commission, you may gradually, year by
year, add to the number of the proprietary farmers in

Again he said : —

" If the English people had been informed, if they
had been capable within the last two centuries of judg-
ing fairly of these matters, and if in addition to this
the government had been merciful and just to Ireland,
there cannot be a doubt that Ireland would be as
closely welded at this moment to England as Scotland
is, and that it would be as difficult to raise the flag of
insurrection or discontent in Ireland as it would be for
Prince Charlie again to appear with his flag in Scot-
land. The Irish farmers are, in the main, industrious
and honest. There has been no country in Europe,
no part of the United Kingdom, in which rents have
been more generally and constantly and fairly paid
than in Ireland, until the recent troubles. The Irish
farmer is an economist ; he saves even to penurious-
ness. The great object of his life is to enable himself
to give a small portion to his daughters on their mar-
riage. The Irish people expatriated to the United
States have sent millions and millions of money to


Ireland, to help their poor relations to make the
voyage thither. Therefore I believe, as much as I
believe anything, that it is possible to frame a measure
of legislation which will satisfy the great bulk of the
Irish tenant-farmers."

To show that this is not an overdrawn picture,
let me read you a little account of what is meant
by a just landlord : —

" Sir Cavendish Foster is one of the few Irish land-
lords who have no trouble with their tenants. He is a
clergyman in Essex, and owns land in County Louth,
Ireland. Not long ago he instructed his agent to
reduce rents twenty per cent ; but his tenants replied
with a unanimous refusal to accept the reduction.
They did not wish for more consideration, — they
asked for none at all. Being able, they were wiUing,
to pay their just rent in full. They told the agent to
inform the landlord that such habitual justice as he
gave them made it unnecessary for them to use, and
they were too honest and grateful to abuse, his gener-
osity. He explains what happened by saying that the
rents were reduced a the time of the last famine in
1847, and they have never since been raised. The
result of a gentle use of the landlord's power is proved
by two remarkable circumstances. When the late
landlord died, the tenants spent two thousand dollars
in putting up a monument to him. The agent — the
usually hated agent — died. A similar monument was
put up to him. At a time when landlordism is being
decried all over Ireland, Sir Cavendish Foster is
receiving constantly from his tenants declarations
that if all landlords were like him, the Land League
would be impossible."

14 209


Such fidelity and such attachment as is pictured
in the description which I have just read to you
proves that the Irish people possess some of the
best and noblest traits of the human heart, — "a
singularly pure, domestic nature, an affectionate
and even sunny disposition, and hearts full of
gratitude and friendship."

You read much in the papers of the three " F's."
Let me explain what is meant by the three " F's."
The first -^stands for fixity of tenure. The tenant
in Ireland wants the privilege of renting the land
for a definite term of years at some fixed rent.
At the present time he is liable to have his rent
raised or himself evicted at every whim of the
landlord. Remember that in three years a million
people were turned out-doors by their relentless
landlords, to sleep with nothing above them but
the blue arch of heaven, and nothing beneath
them but the cold sod. The tenants also want
that when they are evicted they shall receive
compensation for any improvements they have
made, and also compensation for being disturbed,
— these questions to be determined by a fair
board of appraisers. If the English government
has made it impossible for a vast majority of the
people of Ireland to gain any permanent interest
in the land on which they live, and compels them
to occupy for many generations the position of
simple tenants of the soil, throwing upon them



also the misfortune of bad crops or stagnation in
business, without any corresponding reduction in
their rents, — who can blame these poor people
when they appeal from the avarice of the landlord
to some fair and impartial tribunal?

The second F stands for free sales. By this is
meant that the outgoing tenant wants the privilege
of selling to the incoming tenant the unexhausted
improvements which he has made upon the farm.
Bear in mind that this is secured to the tenant in
England by a law containing a list of the improve-
ments for which compensation may be demanded
by the out-going tenant, and the rates to be al-
lowed for the same. England, as I have already
shown you, has one law for the Jew and another
for the Gentile.

The third F stands for fair rent, and means a
protection to the tenant against the arbitrary and
excessive exactions of the landlord. It contem-
plates the creation of some board of arbitration to
decide between the landlord and the tenant when
they are unable to agree. Every sign of prosper-
ity of the tenant is now only an incentive to the
landlord to raise the rent.

In order to appreciate the importance of these
three schemes for improving the condition of the
tenant in Ireland, you must remember that the laws
of England have made it almost impossible for a
vast majority of the Irish people ever to own any
interest in the soil ; they are condemned by cer-



tain inexorable laws to live and die, generation
after generation, as simple tenants of the soil.
The terms of their leases cover many years, during
which, for the purpose of protecting and advanc-
ing their own interests and the interests of their
landlords, they are obliged to make many perma-
nent improvements, — build houses, barns, walls,
ditches, etc., — while in England the landlord
makes these improvements. Do you wonder then
that three millions of people, who have spent their
lives in improving the farms on which they are
living, demand some protection against the avarice
of the landlord, some security that they shall not
be driven in the hour of their misfortune, or in
that old age which comes alike to the rich and the
poor, from the land on which they were born, and
from the homes which they have erected?

It is only carrying a little further, and I think for
a better purpose, a principle well recognized every-
where, that all men hold their property subject to
its being taken for public use at a fair appraisal.
You can take my land to build a court-house on,
upon paying me the appraisal. Why may you not
compel a greedy landlord to rent his farm at a fair
appraisal and upon reasonable terms, when poverty
and starvation stare a whole nation in the face ?

If you ask me whether these contemplated im-
provements have ever been tried anywhere else, I
tell you yes. The Land League of Ireland is only
attempting to secure for the tenants in Ireland the



same privileges that have been enjoyed for many
generations in the happy and prosperous Nether-
lands. In the laws and customs of India, long
prior to its domination by the British, you could
find nearly all the privileges that the Irish tenant
is begging for to-day. Under the old Roman
Empire, whose people found their chief pleasure
in the brutal gladiatorial fights, who worshipped
false gods, who had never heard the sublime doc-
trines of the Christian religion, who never dreamed
of a risen Lord, — among that ancient people it
was a law that when the land was unproductive
through the calamities of the season, the rent of
the land was either suspended or extinguished.
The Land League of Ireland appeal to their Eng-
lish rulers, with all their boasted learning and
civilization, to establish for the unfortunate people
of Ireland a law which has come down to us from
pagan Rome, an*, which has had the approval and
is covered with the hoary frosts of twenty cen-
turies. This may explain why poverty-stricken
Ireland is to-day in arms against landlordism, and
appeals confidently to the humanities of the race
and the brotherhood of mankind to move the hard
hearts of her British rulers.

Another great object sought to be accomplished
by the Land League is to induce the English gov-
ernment to lend its aid in reclaiming the waste
lands of Ireland, estimated to contain over two


millions of acres, and then to divide the lands into
small farms. These lands alone would make forty
thousand farms. John Bright eloquently says :
" What is a million of money, what are ten mil-
lions, what are fifty millions, to this country, to
pursue to a successful issue a great question like
this?" He might well have added that hardly a
year passes in which the English government does
not spend an equal sum to subjugate some savage
race, exasperated by the cruel and relentless de-
mands of British officers and traders, in the wilds
of Africa, or in the snow-clad heights of central

England might learn a lesson from America.
We could have freed three millions of slaves and
planted them on African soil, and saved a bloody
fratricidal war and five millions of dollars and one
million of precious human lives, had we been wise
enough. The poet has truly sung —

" Peace hath her victories
No less renowned than war."

Another object which the Land League seeks to
accomplish is to induce the English government to
lend its credit, as has been done in Prussia and
Russia, and enable the Irish people to become
owners of the soil ; to divide up the vast tracts of
land now for sale, or owned by corporations, — in
the words of an eloquent Irish orator, " to root the
people to the soil." No people are so happy, no


people are so contented, no people are so loyal to
the government, as where all the people own a few
acres of God's green earth. Ireland could easily
be made to support twenty millions of people bet-
ter than she supports six millions to-day. Ireland
has less population to the acre than France, Bel-
gium, Italy, Netherlands, or Switzerland. The
infernal policy of the English government has in
the last twenty years reduced the population of
Ireland nearly three millions, — two millions by
emigration, and one million by starvation.

In Ireland, from 1841 to 1861, two hundred
and seventy thousand houses, representing at least
two millions of people, were levelled to the ground.
In one year, in the province of Connaught,
twenty-six thousand four hundred and ninety
holders of land were wiped out to please the
ambition or ta^cC of great landed proprietors. It
was an Irish poet whose tongue was touched
with heavenly wisdom, who sang in those sweet,
sad words, —

"111 fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay.
Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade, —
A breath can make them as a breath has made ;
But a bold peasantry, a country's pride,
When once destroyed, can never be supplied."

Ireland is cursed in another way and differently
from any other country of which you may read in


history. Nearly one-half of all the land in Ireland
is owned by men living in other countries. What
interest have such men in the soil except to suck
all the life out of it? These three thousand
absentee landlords own one-half of all the culti-
vated land of Ireland, and have exhausted and
allowed in the last five years three hundred and
ninety-eight thousand acres of land to relapse into
waste and uncultivated fields. They demanded
such exorbitant rents that the tenants were obliged
to abandon the fertile plains of Connaught, and
move on to the barren and cheerless hills which
rise toward the Curlew Mountains. When, after
years of toil, they had reclaimed their wretched
mountain tracts, and dotted them over with happy
homes, their landlords doubled the rents, and they
found themselves again houseless and pensioners
on the charities of a cold and uncharitable world.
When these poor people are set adrift in the
world with nothing left to them but the hopes of
an immortal heaven, they look thithei to find some
remedy, some cure, for their overwhelming misfor-
tunes ; and they find on the pages of the wisest
political economist of the nineteenth century, in the
writings of the flower of the British intellect, John
Stuart Mill, these pregnant sentences : —

" The land of Ireland — the land of any country —
belongs to the people of that country. The individ-
uals called landlords have no right in morality and


justice to anything but the rent, or compensation for
its salable value. When the inhabitants of a place
quit the country en masse because its government will
not make it a place fit for them to live in, the govern-
ment is judged and condemned. It is the duty of
Parliament to reform the land-tenure in Ireland.
There is no necessity for depriving the landlords of
one farthing of the pecuniary value of their legal
rights ; but justice requires that the actual cultivators
should be enabled to become in Ireland what they will
become in America, — proprietors of the soil which
they cultivate. The greatest burthen on land is the
landlords. Returning nothing to the soil, they con-
sume its whole produce, minus the potatoes, strictly
necessary to keep the inhabitants from dying of
hunger; and when they have any purpose of improve-
ment, the preparatory step usually consists in not
leaving even this pittance, but turning out the people
to beggary, if not to starvation. When landed prop-
erty has placed itself on this footing, it ceases to be
defensible, and the time has come for making some
new arrangement of the matter. When the sacred-
ness of property is talked of, it should be remembered
that any such sacredness does not belong in the same
degree to landed property. No man made his right
in the land. It is the original inheritance of the whole
species. Its appropriation is a question of general
expediency. When private property in land is not
expedient, it is unjust. It is no hardship to any man
to be excluded from what others have produced ; they
were not bound to produce it for his use, and he loses
nothing by not sharing in what otherwise would not
have existed at all. But it is some hardship to be
born into the world and to find all Nature's gifts pre-


viously engrossed, and no place left for the new-comer.
To reconcile people to this, after they have once
admitted into their minds the idea that any moral
rights belong to them as human beings, it will always
be necessary to convince them that the exclusive
appropriation is good for mankind on the whole, them-
selves included; but this is what no sane human being
could be persuaded of, if the relation between the
land-owner and the cultivator were the same every-
where as it has been in Ireland."

The eloquent historian Froude, with all his
English prejudices, says : " The land in any coun-
try is really the property of the nation which
occupies it."

Do you wonder, then, that these people begin to
agitate these great questions ; that they have organ-
ized the Land League of Ireland to endeavor to
secure in a peaceful way those rights and privileges
which are the birthright of every human being,
and without which life is not worth living? The
American patriots a hundred years ago, in the city
of Philadelphia, proclaimed to all the world and
to all times these grand principles : " We hold
these truths to be self-evident, — that all men are
created equal ; that they are endowed by their
Creator with certain unalienable rights ; that
among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness ; that to secure these rights governments
are instituted among men, deriving their just
powers from the consent of the governed; that


whenever any form of government becomes destruc-
tive of these ends, it is the right of the people to
alter or to abolish it." The Irish patriot of to-day
would stand approved in history through all time
if he should plant the flag of liberty on every green
hill of the Emerald Isle, and sound the bugle
blasts of freedom. You must remember that it
has only been by agitation and turmoil that the
Irish people have ever been able to secure any
concessions, or any new privileges, from the Eng-
lish government. The most brilliant living English
essayist, William Lecky, writing on this subject
says : " Generation after generation, by a slow,
steady, and fatal process, the Irish nation has been
educated into disloyalty ; taught to look with dis-
trust upon constitutional means of obtaining its
ends, and accustomed to regard outrage and vio-
lence as the invariable preludes to concession."

Catholic emancipation, the concession of equal
rights to Catholics and Protestants, was only
granted by the king of England after the Duke of
Wellington, the commander of His Majesty's
forces, had told the king that he must choose
between emancipation and insurrection. The wild
and futile efforts of the Fenians, Mr. Gladstone has
pubhcly stated, made the disestablishment of the
Irish Church a political necessity.

I have not time to-night to go into that other
question, which for three-quarters of a century has


been uppermost in the minds of the Irish people,
and whose advocates are known to-day as home-
rulers. It would be useless for me to attempt to
plead a cause which has had for its advocates a
Curran, a Grattan, and an O'Connell, — names
born never to die.

The series of acts which finally culminated in
the abolition of the Irish parliament, and in the
consolidation of Ireland and England under one
parliament, constitutes the blackest page in the
history of the last century. All the blood of all
the landlords in Ireland cannot atone for that
crime which smells to heaven. A modern English
writer has justly said : " In the case of Ireland, as
truly as in the case of Poland, a national consti-
tution was destroyed by a foreign power contrary
to the wishes of the people. In the one case, the
deed was a crime of violence ; in the other, it was
a crime of treachery and corruption. In both
cases a legacy of enduring bitterness was the
result. Whatever may be thought of the abstract
merits of the arrangement, the union, as it was
carried, was a crime of the deepest turpitude, — a
crime which, by imposing with every circumstance
of infamy a new form of government on a reluctant
and protesting nation, has vitiated the whole course
of Irish opinion."

William Gladstone, the premier of England,
following in the footsteps of most English states-
men, proposes, as the first solution of the problem,


the adoption of the usual coercive legislation, — a
very instructive but lamentable fact, — and vainly
hopes by this means to still the troubled waters.
The legislation of the British parliament for Ire-
land has ever bristled with dragons' teeth. It has
passed one coercion act, on an average, nearly
every year since the union was fraudulently estab-
lished. These coercion laws have always fallen
short of their purpose. All the laws and all the
soldiers of the English government can never
destroy or exterminate the undaunted spirits of
the Irish people. The poet has truly said, —

" Freedom's battle once begun,
Bequeathed from bleeding sire to son.
Though baffled oft, is ever won."

We can already begin to see the dawn of a
better day. By agitation, by public meetings, by
a calm, peaceful, and persistent presentation of her
claims, Ireland will, I believe, under the guidance
of a kind Providence, soon pass through the Red
Sea of her afflictions into the Promised Land of
peasant proprietary, and of consequent prosperity
and contentment.

A commission appointed by the English parlia-
ment to investigate the condition of Ireland has
recently reported in favor of two fundamental
principles, which have never been recognized in
the discussion of the Irish question, and which will
call forth a horrified protest from the land-holding


class ; namely, that the cultivator has a property in
the soil he tills, and that he has a right to get a
living, and something more than a living, from the
land. The commission condemns that system
which robs the tenant of everything except what is
necessary for a bare subsistence ; which keeps half
a nation in abject poverty, and crowds and stifles
the brute creation and human souls in one narrow
hovel. Nearly three-quarters of all the people in
Ireland are living to-day in mud houses, sharing
their pitiable shelter with their best friend, the
brute animal.

The commission therefore recommends that the
tenant should be protected against forfeiture of the
interest in his holding, — either by arbitrary eject-
ment, or by raising his rent at the discretion of
the landlord, — and, instead of a tenancy from
year to year, the commissioners would create a
statutory tenure defeasible only by decree of the
land court for a breach of specified conditions.
This would secure that fixity of possession which
is the prime condition of successful farming and
contentment of mind.

We are approaching the most critical period in
the history of the Land League agitation. This is
no time to haul down the colors or suspend the
agitation. Let no man be discouraged because
the foremost champion of the Land League agita-
tion, Michael Davitt, pines in a British jail. Every
great cause must have some martyr, and future



generations will cherish the memory of Ireland's
martyred saints. Now is the time for the sons and
friends of Ireland to marshal their forces for the
final charge upon the embattled hosts of land-
lordism, and of English ignorance, cruelty, and
injustice. In this Land League agitation, in this
grand appeal to the public opinion of the world and
to the parliament of mankind, there is no need of
soldiers or the dreadful calamities of civil war.
Instead of muskets, I would put into the hands of
every member of the Land League organization a
banner, and on that banner should be blazoned the
words of the immortal Grattan : " I wish for
nothing but to breathe in this our island, in com-
mon with my fellow- subjects, the air of liberty. I
have no ambition, unless it be to break your chains
and contemplate your glory. I will never be satis-
fied so long as the meanest cottager in Ireland has
a link of the British chain clanking to his rags."

No true Irishman ever despairs of his country.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryRatcliffe HicksSpeeches and public correspondence of Ratcliffe Hicks .. → online text (page 12 of 18)