Speeches on Questions of Public Policy, Volume 1
John Bright

Part 6 out of 9

family. Sometimes the father effects an arrangement with his
eldest son on his coming of age; the son stipulating for an
immediate provision in the shape of an annuity, the father for a
gross sum to satisfy his creditors, or to portion his younger
children, and for a resettlement of the estate. This arrangement,
perhaps, is brought about by means, or imposes terms, which, in
the eye of equity, render it a fraud upon the son; and here we
have another source of litigation.'

Now, what I have here read is exactly that which everybody's experience
tells us is the fact, and we have recently had a notable case which
exactly answers to that referred to in the last paragraph of this
Opinion. The practice of making settlements of this description is
mischievous--leads to endless litigation--and sooner or later the landed
classes must sink under it.

The Irish proprietors have also another difficulty to contend with, and
that is their extravagance. It is said--for I cannot vouch for the fact
myself--that they keep too many horses and dogs. I do not mean to say
that an Irish gentleman may not spend his rents as he pleases; but I can
say that he cannot both spend his money and have it too. I think if they
would cast their pride on one side, and go honestly to work--if, instead
of their young men spending their time 'waiting for a commission' they
were to go into business, they would be far better and more usefully
employed, and they would find that the less humiliating condition of the
two. Another bane of Ireland is the prevalence of life interests in
landed property there. Under such a system the land can neither be
improved nor sold. Now what has the noble Lord at the head of the
Government done towards grappling with all these questions? Nothing--
absolutely nothing. I think him very unwise in not propounding to
himself the momentous question, 'What shall be done for Ireland?' The
right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth has a plan. He entered upon
its outline on Friday last. But I doubt whether it has yet taken that
distinct form which it must assume in order that the House may take
cognisance of it. I admire some of the measures which the right hon.
Baronet intimates he would carry into effect, but there are other parts
of his proposals which are vague and impracticable. I think, if it is
believed in Ireland that a Commission is to be appointed to take charge
of the distressed Unions of the south and west--that the whole thing is
to be managed through a new department of the Government, and all
without the slightest trouble to the landlords--that there will be more
than ever a clinging to this wretched property in bankrupt estates, and
more than ever an indisposition to adopt those measures which are still
open to them, in the direction in which the right hon. Baronet wishes to

The right hon. Baronet stated in his first speech on this topic, that he
did not wish the transfer of property to be by individual barter; and on
Friday he stated that he was very much averse to allowing matters to go
on in their natural course, for by that means land would be unnaturally
cheapened. Well, but upon what conditions would the right hon. Baronet
buy land in Ireland? would it be under the same circumstances, and at
the same price, that he would buy an estate in Yorkshire or
Staffordshire? If any sane man goes to the west or south of Ireland to
purchase an estate, he must go on account of the cheapness of the
bargain--a cheapness which he hopes will compensate him for all the
disadvantages to which he must necessarily be subjected in such a
purchase. There can be no redemption for that part of Ireland--if it is
to be through the transfer of land--except the land take its natural
course, and come so cheap into the market that Englishmen and Scotchmen,
and Irishmen too having capital, will be willing to purchase it,
notwithstanding all its disadvantages. [Colonel Dunne: 'Hear, hear!']
The hon. Member for Portarlington cheers that, as if it were an
extraordinary statement. If the hon. Member prefers purchasing what is
dear to what is cheap, he is not a very sensible man to legislate for
Ireland. If he thinks that a man will go into Galway and pay as much per
acre for an estate as he would in England, he is greatly mistaken; but
the fact is, I believe, that not only English and Scotch capital, but
that much Irish capital also, would be expended in the purchase of
estates in the south and west, if the ends which the right hon. Baronet
has in view were facilitated by this House.

But we have a case in point which affords us some guidance upon this
question, and it is a case with which the right hon. Baronet the Member
for Tamworth, and the right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon, are very
familiar. I allude to the case of Stockport in 1842. Owing to a variety
of circumstances--I will not go into the question of the Corn-law, as
that is settled--but owing to a variety of circumstances, from 1838 to
1842 there was a continued sinking in the condition of Stockport--its
property depreciated to a lamentable extent. One man left property, as
he thought, worth 80,000_l_. or 90,000_l_. Within two years it
sold for little more than 30,000_l_. Since that time the son of one
man, then supposed to be a person of large property, has had relief from
the parochial funds. In 1842 the amount of the poor-rate averaged from
7_s_. to 8_s_. in the pound. From November 4, 1841, to May 30,
1842, the rates levied were 6_s_. in the pound, realising the
amount of 19,144_l_. From January 28, 1843, to August 2 of the same
year, the rates levied were 7_s_. in the pound, and the amount
raised was 21,948_l_. And bear in mind that at that time Stockport
was in process of depopulation--many thousands quitted the place--whole
streets were left with scarcely a tenant in them--some public-houses,
previously doing a large business, were let for little more than their
rates; in fact, Stockport was as fair a representative of distress
amongst a manufacturing community as Mayo, Galway, or any western county
of Ireland can be at this moment of distress amongst an agricultural

Now what was done in Stockport? There was a Commission of Inquiry, which
the then Home Secretary appointed. They made an admirable report, the
last paragraph of which ought to be read by every one who wishes to know
the character of the people of Stockport. Mr. Twisleton, speaking of
them, said that they were a noble people; and truly the exertions which
they made to avoid becoming chargeable upon the rates were heroic. Well
now, all this suffering was going on--the workhouses were crowded, the
people were emigrating, there was a general desolation, and if it had
not been for the harvest of 1842, which was a good one, and the gradual
recovery of trade which followed, nothing in Ireland can be worse than
the condition of Stockport would have been. What was the result?
Property was greatly depreciated, and much of it changed hands.
Something like half the manufacturers failed, and, of course, gave up
business altogether. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport purchased
property in the borough at that period, and since then he has laid out
not far short of a hundred thousand pounds, in a very large
manufacturing establishment in that town. In fact, the persons who are
now carrying on the manufacturing business in Stockport are of a more
substantial character than those who were swept away by the calamities
of 1842. This is a very sorrowful process. I can feel as much for those
persons as any man; but we must all submit to circumstances such as
these when they come.

There are vicissitudes in all classes of society, and in all occupations
in which we may engage; and when we have, as now in Ireland, a state of
things--a grievous calamity not equalled under the sun,--it is the duty
of this House not to interfere with the ordinary and natural course of
remedy, and not to flinch from what is necessary for the safety of the
people by reason of any mistaken sympathy with the owners of cotton
mills or with the proprietors of landed estates. Now, I want Parliament
to remove every obstacle in the way of the free sale of land. I believe
that in this policy lies the only security you have for the restoration
of the distressed districts of Ireland. The question of a Parliamentary
title is most important; but I understand that the difficulty of this
arises from the system of entails beyond persons now living, and because
you must go back through a long search of sixty years before you can
make it quite clear that the title is absolutely secure. The right hon.
Baronet the Member for Tamworth suggested that the Lord Chancellor
should be ousted. I proposed last year that there should be a new court
established in Ireland, for the adjudication of cases connected with
land, and for no other purpose, and that it should thus relieve the
present courts from much of the business with which they are now
encumbered. But I do not say that even such a court would effect much
good, unless it were very much more speedy in its operations than the
existing courts. I believe that the present Lord Chancellor is admitted
to be as good a Judge as ever sat in the Court of Chancery; but he is
rather timid as a Minister, and inert as a statesman; and, if I am not
mistaken, he was in a great measure responsible for the failure of the
Bill for facilitating the sale of encumbered estates last Session. The
Government must have known, as well as I do, that such a measure could
not succeed, and that the clause which was introduced--on the third
reading, I believe--made it impossible to work it.

There is another point, with regard to intestate estates. I feel how
tenderly one must speak, in this House, upon a question like this. Even
the right hon. Member for Tamworth, with all his authority, appeared,
when touching on this delicate question of the land, as if he were
walking upon eggs which he was very much afraid of breaking. I certainly
never heard the right hon. Gentleman steer through so many sinuosities
in a case; and hardly, at last, dared he come to the question, because
he was talking about land--this sacred land! I believe land to have
nothing peculiar in its nature which does not belong to other property;
and everything that we have done with the view of treating land
differently from other property has been a blunder--a false course which
we must retrace--an error which lies at the foundation of very much of
the pauperism and want of employment which so generally prevail. Now,
with regard to intestate estates, I am told that the House of Lords will
never repeal the law of primogeniture; but I do not want them to repeal
the law of primogeniture in the sense entertained by some people. I do
not want them to enact the system of France, by which a division of
property is compelled. I think that to force the division of property by
law is just as contrary to sound principles and natural rights as to
prevent its division, as is done by our law. If a man choose to act the
unnatural and absurd part of leaving the whole of his property to one
child, I should not, certainly, look with respect upon his memory; but I
would not interfere to prevent the free exercise of his will. I think,
however, if a man die by chance without a will, that it is the duty of
the Government to set a high moral example, and to divide the property
equally among the children of the former owner, or among those who may
be said to be his heirs--among those, in fact, who would fairly
participate in his personal estate. If that system of leaving all to the
eldest were followed out in the case of personalty, it would lead to
immediate confusion, and, by destroying the whole social system, to a
perfect anarchy of property. Why, then, should that course be followed
with regard to land? The repeal of the law would not of necessity
destroy the custom; but this House would no longer give its sanction to
a practice which is bad; and I believe that gradually there would be a
more just appreciation of their duties in this respect by the great body
of testators.

Then, with regard to life interests; I would make an alteration there. I
think that life-owners should be allowed to grant leases--of course,
only on such terms as should ensure the successor from fraud--and that
estates should be permitted to be charged with the sums which were
expended in their improvement. Next, with regard to the registry of
land. In many European countries this is done; and high legal
authorities affirm that it would not be difficult to accomplish it in
this country. You have your Ordnance Survey. To make the Survey
necessary for a perfect registry of deeds throughout the kingdom, would
not cost more than 9_d_. an acre; and if you had your plans
engraved, it would be no great addition to the expense. There can be no
reason why the landowners should not have that advantage conferred upon
them, because, in addition to the public benefit, it would increase the
value of their lands by several years' purchase. Mr. Senior has stated,
that if there were the same ready means for the transfer of land as at
present exist for the transfer of personalty, the value of land would be
increased, if I mistake not, by nine years' purchase. This is a subject
which I would recommend to the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, now
distinguished as the advocate of the landed interest.

Then with regard to stamps, I think that they might be reduced, at any
rate for a number of years, to a nominal amount. In fact, I would make
any sacrifice for the purpose of changing land from the hands of
insolvent and embarrassed owners into those of solvent persons, who
would employ it in a manner usefully and advantageously to the country
and themselves. There is another proposition with, regard to the waste
lands of Ireland. The Government made a proposal last year for obtaining
those waste lands, and bringing them into cultivation. That I thought
injudicious. But they might take those lands at a valuation, and,
dividing them into farms and estates of moderate size, might tempt
purchasers from different parts of the United Kingdom. By such means I
believe that a large proportion of the best of the waste lands might be
brought into cultivation. I believe that these are the only means by
which capital can be attracted to that country.

The noble Lord at the head of the Government proposes to attract capital
to Ireland by a maximum rate and a charge upon the Unions. If that
maximum rate be all you have to propose, there will be no more
probability of capital flowing into those parts of Ireland where it is
so much required, than there was at the time when the poor-rate was
unknown. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Tamworth spoke about
emigration; and I think that he was rather unjust, or at least unwise,
in his observations with regard to voluntary emigration. Things that are
done voluntarily are not always done well; neither are things that are
done by the Government; and I know many cases where Government
undertakings have failed as eminently as any that have been attempted by
private enterprise. But it does not appear to me that there is much
wisdom in the project of emigration, although I know that some hon.
Gentlemen from Ireland place great faith in it as a remedy. I have
endeavoured to ascertain what is the relation of the population to the
land in Ireland, and this is what I find. In speaking of the Clifden
Union, the Inspectors state--

'In conclusion, we beg to offer our matured opinion that the
resources of the Union would, if made available, be amply
sufficient for the independent support of its population.'

Mr. Hamilton, who was examined before the Committee of which I am a
member, said, speaking of the Unions of Donegal and Glenties--

'There is no over-population, if those Unions, according to their
capabilities, were cultivated as the average of English counties,
with the same skill and capital.'

And Mr. Twisleton said--

'I did not speak of a redundant population in reference to land,
only to capital. The land of Ireland could maintain double its
present population.'

Then, if that be the case, I am not quite certain that we should be wise
in raising sums of money to enable the people to emigrate. The cost of
transporting a family to Australia, or even to Canada, is considerable;
and the question is, whether, with the means which it would require to
convey them to a distant shore, they might not be more profitably
employed at home.

I probably shall be told that I propose schemes which are a great
interference with the rights of property. My opinion is that nothing can
be a greater interference and infringement of the rights of property
than the laws which regulate property now. I think that the landowners
are under an impression that they have been maintaining great influence,
political power, an hereditary aristocracy, and all those other
arrangements which some think should never be named without reverence
and awe; that they have been accustomed to look at these things, and to
fancy that they are worth the price they pay for them. I am of opinion
that the disadvantages under which those rights labour throughout the
United Kingdom are extreme; but in Ireland the disadvantages are
followed by results not known in this country.

You speak of interference with property; but I ask what becomes of the
property of the poor man, which consists of his labour? Take those
4,000,000 persons who live in the distressed districts, as described by
the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth. Their property in labour
is almost totally destroyed. There they are--men whom God made and
permitted to come into this world, endowed with faculties like
ourselves, but who are unable to maintain themselves, and must either
starve or live upon others. The interference with their property has
been enormous--so great as absolutely to destroy it. Now, I ask the
landlords of Ireland, whether living in the state in which they have
lived for years is not infinitely worse than that which I have proposed
for them? Threatening letters by the post at breakfast-time--now and
then the aim of the assassin--poor-rates which are a grievous
interference with the rights of property, and this rate in aid, which
the gentlemen of Ulster declare to be directly opposed to all the rights
of property--what can be worse?

I shall be told that I am injuring aristocratical and territorial
influence. What is that in Ireland worth to you now? What is Ireland
worth to you at all? Is she not the very symbol and token of your
disgrace and humiliation to the whole world? Is she not an incessant
trouble to your Legislature, and the source of increased expense to your
people, already over-taxed? Is not your legislation all at fault in what
it has hitherto done for that country? The people of Ulster say that we
shall weaken the Union. It has been one of the misfortunes of the
legislation of this House that there has been no honest attempt to make
a union with the whole people of Ireland up to this time. We have had a
union with Ulster, but there has been no union with the whole people of
Ireland, and there never can be a union between the Government and the
people whilst such a state of things exists as has for many years past
prevailed in the south and west of Ireland.

The condition of Ireland at this moment is this--the rich are menaced
with ruin, and ruin from which, in their present course, they cannot
escape; whilst the poor are menaced with starvation and death. There are
hon. Gentlemen in this House, and there are other landed proprietors in
Ireland, who are as admirable in the performance of all their social
duties as any men to be found in any part of the world. We have had
brilliant examples mentioned in this House; but those men themselves are
suffering their characters to be damaged by the present condition of
Ireland, and are undergoing a process which must end in their own ruin;
because this demoralisation and pauperisation will go on in an extending
circle, and will engulf the whole property of Ireland in one common
ruin, unless something more be done than passing poor-laws and proposing
rates in aid.

Sir, if ever there were an opportunity for a statesman, it is this. This
is the hour undoubtedly, and we want the man. The noble Lord at the head
of the Government has done many things for his country, for which I
thank him as heartily as any man--he has shown on some occasions as much
moral courage as it is necessary, in the state of public opinion, upon
any question, for a statesman to show; but I have been much disappointed
that, upon this Irish question, he has seemed to shrink from a full
consideration of the difficulty, and from a resolution to meet it
fairly. The character of the present, the character of any Government
under such circumstances, must be at stake. The noble Lord cannot, in
his position, remain inactive. Let him be as innocent as he may, he can
never justify himself to the country, or to the world, or to posterity,
if he remains at the head of this Imperial Legislature and is still
unable, or unwilling, to bring forward measures for the restoration of
Ireland. I would address the same language also to the noble Lord at the
head of the Irish Government, who has won, I must say, the admiration of
the population of this country for the temper and manner in which he has
administered the government of Ireland. But he must bear in mind that it
is not the highest effort of statesmanship to preserve the peace in a
country where there are very few men anxious to go to war, and to
preserve the peace, too, with 50,000 armed men at his command, and the
whole power of this empire to back him. All that may be necessary, and
peace at all hazards must be secured; but if that distinguished Nobleman
intends to be known hereafter as a statesman with regard to his rule in
Ireland, he must be prepared to suggest measures to the Government of a
more practical and directly operative character than any he has yet

Sir, I am ashamed, I must say, of the course which we have taken upon
this question. Look at that great subscription that was raised three
years ago for Ireland. There was scarcely a part of the globe from which
subscriptions did not come. The Pope, as was very natural, subscribed--
the head of the great Mahometan empire, the Grand Seignior, sent his
thousand pounds--the uttermost parts of the earth sent in their
donations. A tribe of Red Indians on the American continent sent their
subscription; and I have it on good authority that even the slaves on a
plantation in one of the Carolinas subscribed their sorrowful mite that
the miseries of Ireland might be relieved. The whole world looked upon
the condition of Ireland, and helped to mitigate her miseries. What can
we say to all those contributors, who, now that they have paid, must he
anxious to know if anything is done to prevent a recurrence of these
calamities? We must tell them with blushes that nothing has been done,
but that we are still going on with the poor-rates, and that, having
exhausted the patience of the people of England in Parliamentary grants,
we are coming now with rates in aid, restricted altogether to the
property of Ireland. That is what we have to tell them; whilst we have
to acknowledge that our Constitution, boasted of as it has been for
generations past, utterly fails to grapple with this great question.

Hon. Gentlemen turn with triumph to neighbouring countries, and speak in
glowing terms of our glorious Constitution. It is true, that abroad
thrones and dynasties have been overturned, whilst in England peace has
reigned undisturbed. But take all the lives that have been lost in the
last twelve months in Europe amidst the convulsions that have occurred--
take all the cessation of trade, the destruction of industry, all the
crushing of hopes and hearts, and they will not compare for an instant
with the agonies which have been endured by the population of Ireland
under your glorious Constitution. And there are those who now say that
this is the ordering of Providence. I met an Irish gentleman the other
night, and, speaking upon the subject, he said that he saw no remedy,
but that it seemed as if the present state of things were the mode by
which Providence intended to solve the question of Irish difficulties.
But let us not lay these calamities at the door of Providence; it were
sinful in us, of all men, to do so. God has blessed Ireland--and does
still bless her--in position, in soil, in climate; He has not withdrawn
His promises, nor are they unfulfilled; there is still the sunshine and
the shower; still the seed-time and the harvest; and the affluent bosom
of the earth yet offers sustenance for man. But man must do his part--we
must do our part--we must retrace our steps--we must shun the blunders,
and, I would even say, the crimes of our past legislation. We must free
the land, and then we shall discover, and not till then, that industry,
hopeful and remunerated--industry, free and inviolate, is the only sure
foundation on which can be reared the enduring edifice of union and of

* * * * *




[The Fenian Conspiracy and threatened Insurrection in Ireland compelled
the Government to introduce a Bill to suspend the Habeas Corpus Act. It
was brought in suddenly, the House meeting on Saturday to consider it.]

I OWE an apology to the Irish Members for stepping in to make an
observation to the House on this question. My strong interest in the
affairs of their country, ever since I came into Parliament, will be my
sufficient excuse. The Secretary of State, on the part of the Government
of which he is a Member, has called us together on an unusual day and at
an unusual hour, to consider a proposition of the greatest magnitude,
and which we are informed is one of extreme urgency. If it be so, I hope
it will not be understood that we are here merely to carry out the
behests of the Administration; and that we are to be permitted, if we
choose, to discuss this measure, and if possible to say something which
may mitigate the apparent harshness of the course which the Government
feels itself compelled to pursue.

It is now more than twenty-two years since I was first permitted to take
my seat in this House. During that time I have on many occasions, with
great favour, been allowed to address it, but I declare that during the
whole of that period I have never risen to speak here under so strong a
feeling, as a Member of the House, of shame and of humiliation, as that
by which I find myself oppressed at this moment. The Secretary of State
proposes--as the right hon. Gentleman himself has said--to deprive no
inconsiderable portion of the subjects of the Queen--our countrymen,
within the United Kingdom--of the commonest, of the most precious, and
of the most sacred right of the English Constitution, the right to their
personal freedom. From the statement of the Secretary of State it is
clear that this is not asked to be done, or required to be done, with
reference only to a small section of the Irish people. He has named
great counties, wide districts, whole provinces, over which this alleged
and undoubted disaffection has spread, and has proposed that five or six
millions of the inhabitants of the United Kingdom shall suffer the loss
of that right of personal freedom that is guaranteed to all Her
Majesty's subjects by the Constitution of these realms.

Now, I do not believe that the Secretary of State has overstated his
case for the purpose of inducing the House to consent to his
proposition. I believe that if the majority of the people of Ireland,
counted fairly out, had their will, and if they had the power, they
would unmoor the island from its fastenings in the deep, and move it at
least 2,000 miles to the West. And I believe, further, that if by
conspiracy, or insurrection, or by that open agitation to which alone I
ever would give any favour or consent, they could shake off the
authority, I will not say of the English Crown, but of the Imperial
Parliament, they would gladly do so.

An hon. Member from Ireland a few nights ago referred to the character
of the Irish people. He said, and I believe it is true, that there is no
Christian nation with which we are acquainted amongst the people of
which crime of the ordinary character, as we reckon it in this country,
is so rare as it is amongst his countrymen. He might have said, also,
that there is no people--whatever they may be at home--more industrious
than his countrymen in every other country but their own. He might have
said more; that they are a people of a cheerful and joyous temperament.
He might have said more than this--that they are singularly grateful for
kindnesses shown to them, and that of all the people of our race they
are filled with the strongest sentiment of veneration.

And yet, with such materials and with such a people, after centuries of
government--after sixty-five years of government by this House--you have
them embittered against your rule, and anxious only to throw off the
authority of the Crown and Queen of these realms. Now, this is not a
single occasion we are discussing. This is merely an access of the
complaint Ireland has been suffering under during the lifetime of the
oldest man in this House, that of chronic insurrection. No man can deny
this. I dare say a large number of the Members of this House, at the
time to which the right hon. Member for Buckinghamshire referred, heard
the same speech on the same subject, from the same Minister to whom we
have listened to-day. [Sir G. Grey: 'No!'] I certainly thought I heard
the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department
make a speech before on the same question, but he was a Minister of the
Government on whose behalf a similar speech was made on the occasion
referred to, and no doubt concurred in every word that was uttered by
his Colleague.

Sixty-five years ago this country and this Parliament undertook to
govern Ireland. I will say nothing of the manner in which that duty was
brought upon us--except this--that it was by proceedings disgraceful and
corrupt to the last degree. I will say nothing of the pretences under
which it was brought about but this--that the English Parliament and
people, and the Irish people too, were told, that if they once got rid
of the Irish Parliament they would dethrone for ever Irish factions, and
that with a united Parliament we should become a united, and stronger,
and happier people. During these sixty-five years--and on this point I
ask for the attention of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Disraeli) who has
just spoken--there are only three considerable measures which Parliament
has passed in the interests of Ireland. One of them was the measure of
1829, for the emancipation of the Catholics and to permit them to have
seats in this House. But that measure, so just, so essential, and which,
of course, is not ever to be recalled, was a measure which the chief
Minister of the day, a great soldier, and a great judge of military
matters, admitted was passed under the menace of, and only because of,
the danger of civil war. The other two measures to which I have referred
are that for the relief of the poor, and that for the sale of the
incumbered estates; and those measures were introduced to the House and
passed through the House in the emergency of a famine more severe than
any that has desolated any Christian country of the world within the
last four hundred years.

Except on these two emergencies I appeal to every Irish Member, and to
every English Member who has paid any attention to the matter, whether
the statement is not true that this Parliament has done nothing for the
people of Ireland. And, more than that, their complaints have been met--
complaints of their sufferings have been met--often by denial, often by
insult, often by contempt. And within the last few years we have heard
from this very Treasury bench observations with regard to Ireland which
no friend of Ireland or of England, and no Minister of the Crown, ought
to have uttered with regard to that country. Twice in my Parliamentary
life this thing has been done--at least by the close of this day will
have been done--and measures of repression--measures for the suspension
of the civil rights of the Irish people--have been brought into
Parliament and passed with extreme and unusual rapidity.

I have not risen to blame the Secretary of State or to blame his
Colleagues for the act of to-day. There may be circumstances to justify
a proposition of this kind, and I am not here to deny that these
circumstances now exist; but what I complain of is this: there is no
statesmanship merely in acts of force and acts of repression. And more
than that, I have not observed since I have been in Parliament anything
on this Irish question that approaches to the dignity of statesmanship.
There has been, I admit, an improved administration in Ireland. There
have been Lord-Lieutenants anxious to be just, and there is one there
now who is probably as anxious to do justice as any man. We have
observed generally in the recent Trials a better tone and temper than
were ever witnessed under similar circumstances in Ireland before. But
if I go back to the Ministers who have sat on the Treasury Bench since I
first came into this House--Sir Robert Peel first, then Lord John
Russell, then Lord Aberdeen, then Lord Derby, then Lord Palmerston, then
Lord Derby again, then Lord Palmerston again, and now Earl Russell--I
say that with regard to all these men, there has not been any approach
to anything that history will describe as statesmanship on the part of
the English Government towards Ireland. There were Coercion Bills in
abundance--Arms Bills Session after Session--lamentations like that of
the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli)
that the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act was not made perpetual by a
clause which he laments was repealed.

There have been Acts for the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act, like
that which we are now discussing; but there has been no statesmanship.
Men, the most clumsy and brutal, can do these things; but we want men of
higher temper--men of higher genius--men of higher patriotism to deal
with the affairs of Ireland. I should like to know whether those
statesmen who hold great offices have themselves comprehended the nature
of this question. If they have not, they have been manifestly ignorant;
and if they have comprehended it and have not dealt with it, they have
concealed that which they knew from the people, and evaded the duty they
owed to their Sovereign. I do not want to speak disrespectfully of men
in office. It is not my custom in this House. I know something of the
worrying labours to which they are subjected, and I know not how from
day to day they bear the burden of the labour imposed upon them; but
still I lament that those who wear the garb--enjoy the emoluments--and I
had almost said usurp the dignity of statesmanship, sink themselves
merely into respectable and honourable administrators, when there is a
whole nation under the sovereignty of the Queen calling for all their
anxious thoughts--calling for the highest exercise of the highest
qualities of the statesman.

I put the question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He is the only
man of this Government whom I have heard of late years who has spoken as
if he comprehended this question, and he made a speech in the last
Session of Parliament which was not without its influence both in
England and in Ireland. I should like to ask him whether this Irish
question is above the stature of himself and of his Colleagues? If it
be, I ask them to come down from the high places which they occupy, and
try to learn the art of legislation and government before they practise
it. I myself believe, if we could divest ourselves of the feelings
engendered by party strife, we might come to some better result. Take
the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Is there in any legislative assembly in
the world a man, as the world judges, of more transcendent capacity? I
will say even, is there a man with a more honest wish to do good to the
country in which he occupies so conspicuous a place?

Take the right hon. Gentleman opposite, the leader of the Opposition--is
there in any legislative assembly in the world, at this moment, a man
leading an Opposition of more genius for his position, who has given in
every way but one in which proof can be given that he is competent to
the highest duties of the highest offices of the State? Well, but these
men--great men whom we on this side and you on that side, to a large
extent, admire and follow fight for office, and the result is they sit
alternately, one on this side and one on that. But suppose it were
possible for these men, with their intellects, with their far-reaching
vision, to examine this question thoroughly, and to say for once,
whether this leads to office and to the miserable notoriety that men
call fame which springs from office, or not, 'If it be possible, we will
act with loyalty to the Sovereign and justice to the people; and if it
be possible, we will make Ireland a strength and not a weakness to the
British Empire.' It is from this fighting with party, and for party, and
for the gains which party gives, that there is so little result from the
great intellect of such men as these. Like the captive Samson of old,--

They grind in brazen fetters, under task,
With their Heaven-gifted strength--'

and the country and the world gain little by those faculties which God
has given them for the blessing of the country and the world.

The Secretary of State and the right hon. Gentleman opposite have
referred, even in stronger language, to the unhappy fact that much of
what now exists in Ireland has been brought there from the United States
of America. That is not a fact for us to console ourselves with; it only
adds to the gravity and the difficulty of this question. You may depend
upon it that if the Irish in America, having left this country, settle
there with so strong a hostility to us, they have had their reasons--and
if being there with that feeling of affection for their native country
which in all other cases in which we are not concerned we admire and
reverence, they interfere in Ireland and stir up there the sedition that
now exists, depend upon it there is in the condition of Ireland a state
of things which greatly favours their attempts. There can be no
continued fire without fuel, and all the Irish in America, and all the
citizens of America, united together, with all their organization and
all their vast resources, would not raise the very slightest flame of
sedition or of insurrectionary movement in England or in Scotland. I
want to know why they can do it in Ireland? Are you to say, as some
people say in America and in Jamaica when speaking of the black man,
that 'Nothing can be made of the Irishman'?

Everything can be made of him in every country but his own. When he has
passed through the American school--I speak of him as a child, or in the
second generation of the Irish emigrant in that country--he is as
industrious, as frugal, as independent, as loyal, as good a citizen of
the American Republic, as any man born within the dominions of that
Power. Why is it not so in Ireland? I have asked the question before,
and I will ask it again--it is a pertinent question, and it demands an
answer. Why is it that no Scotchman who leaves Scotland--and the Scotch
have been taunted and ridiculed for being so ready to leave their
country for a better climate and a better soil--how comes it, I ask,
that no Scotchman who emigrates to the United States, and no Englishman
who plants himself there, cherishes the smallest hostility to the
people, to the institutions, or to the Government of his native country?
Why does every Irishman who leaves his country and goes to the United
States immediately settle himself down there, resolved to better his
condition in life, but with a feeling of ineradicable hatred to the laws
and institutions of the land of his birth? Is not this a fit question
for statesmanship?

If the Secretary of State, since his last measure was brought in, now
eighteen years ago, had had time, in the multiplicity of his duties, to
consider this question; instead of now moving for the suspension of the
Habeas Corpus Act, he might possibly have been rejoicing at the
universal loyalty which prevailed, not throughout Great Britain only,
but throughout the whole population of Ireland. I spent two autumns in
Ireland in the years 1849 and 1852, and I recollect making a speech in
this House not long afterwards, which some persons thought was not very
wide of the mark. I recommended the Ministers of that time to take an
opportunity to hold an Irish Session of the Imperial Parliament--to have
no great questions discussed connected with the ordinary matters which
are brought before us, but to keep Parliament to the consideration of
this Irish question solely, and to deal with those great matters which
are constant sources of complaint; and I said that a Session that was so
devoted to such a blessed and holy work, would be a Session, if it were
successful, that would stand forth in all our future history as one of
the noblest which had ever passed in the annals of the Imperial

Now, Sir, a few days ago everybody in this House, with two or three
exceptions, was taking an oath at that table. It is called the Oath of
Allegiance. It is meant at once to express loyalty and to keep men
loyal. I do not think it generally does bind men to loyalty, if they
have not loyalty without it. I hold loyalty to consist, in a country
like this, as much in doing justice to the people as in guarding the
Crown; for I believe there is no guardianship of the Crown in a country
like this, where the Crown is not supposed to rest absolutely upon
force, so safe as that of which we know more in our day probably than
has been known in former periods of our history, when the occupant of
the Throne is respected, admired, and loved by the general people. Now,
how comes it that these great statesmen whom I have named, with all
their Colleagues, some of them as eminent almost as their leaders, have
never tried what they could do--have never shown their loyalty to the
Crown by endeavouring to make the Queen as safe in the hearts of the
people of Ireland as she is in the hearts of the people of England and
of Scotland?

Bear in mind that the Queen of England can do almost nothing in these
matters. By our Constitution the Crown can take no direct part in them.
The Crown cannot direct the policy of the Government; nay, the Crown
cannot, without the consent of this House, even select its Ministers;
therefore the Crown is helpless in this matter. And we have in this
country a Queen, who, in all the civilized nations of the world, is
looked upon as a model of a Sovereign, and yet her name and fame are
discredited and dishonoured by circumstances such as those which have
twice during her reign called us together to agree to a proposition like
that which is brought before us to-day.

There is an instructive anecdote to be found in the annals of the
Chinese Empire. In a remote province there was an insurrection. The
Emperor put down the insurrection, but he abased and humbled himself
before the people, and said that if he had been guilty of neglect he
acknowledged his guilt, and he humbled himself before those on whom he
had brought the evil of an insurrection in one of his provinces. The
Queen of these realms is not so responsible. She cannot thus humble
herself; but I say that your statesmen for the last forty--for the last
sixty--years are thus guilty, and that they ought to humble themselves
before the people of this country for their neglect. But I have heard
from Members in this House--I have seen much writing in newspapers--and
I have heard of speeches elsewhere, in which some of us, who advocate
what we believe to be a great and high morality in public affairs, are
charged with dislike to the institutions, and even disloyalty to the
dynasty which rules in England. There can be nothing more offensive,
nothing more unjust, nothing more utterly false. We who ask Parliament,
in dealing with Ireland, to deal with it upon the unchangeable
principles of justice, are the friends of the people, and the really
loyal advisers and supporters of the Throne.

All history teaches us that it is not in human nature that men should be
content under any system of legislation, and of institutions such as
exist in Ireland. You may pass this Bill, you may put the Home
Secretary's five hundred men into gaol--you may do more than this, you
may suppress the conspiracy and put down the insurrection, but the
moment it is suppressed there will still remain the germs of this
malady, and from those germs will grow up as heretofore another crop of
insurrection and another harvest of misfortune. And it may be that those
who sit here eighteen years after this moment will find another Ministry
and another Secretary of State ready to propose to you another
administration of the same ever-failing and ever-poisonous medicine. I
say there is a mode of making Ireland loyal. I say that the Parliament
of England having abolished the Parliament of Ireland is doubly bound to
examine what that mode is, and, if it can discover it, to adopt it. I
say that the Minister who occupies office in this country, merely that
he may carry on the daily routine of administration, who dares not
grapple with this question, who dares not go into Opposition, and who
will sit anywhere except where he can tell his mind freely to the House
and to the country, may have a high position in the country, but he is
not a statesman, nor is he worthy of the name.

Sir, I shall not oppose the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman. The
circumstances, I presume, are such that the course which is about to be
pursued is perhaps the only merciful course for Ireland. But I suppose
it is not the intention of the Government, in the case of persons who
are arrested, and against whom any just complaint can be made, to do
anything more than that which the ordinary law permits, and that when
men are brought to trial they will be brought to trial with all the
fairness and all the advantages which the ordinary law gives. I should
say what was most unjust to the Gentlemen sitting on that (the Treasury)
bench, if I said aught else than that I believe they are as honestly
disposed to do right in this matter as I am and as I have ever been. I
implore them, if they can, to shake off the trammels of doubt and fear
with regard to this question, and to say something that may be soothing--
something that may give hope to Ireland.

I voted the other night with the hon. Member for Tralee (The
O'Donoghue). We were in a very small minority. ['Hear, hear,'] Yes, I
have often been in small minorities. The hon. Gentleman would have been
content with a word of kindness and of sympathy, not for conspiracy, but
for the people of Ireland. That word was not inserted in the Queen's
speech, and to-night the Home Secretary has made a speech urging the
House to the course which, I presume, is about to be pursued; but he did
not in that speech utter a single sentence with regard to a question
which lies behind, and is greater and deeper than that which is

I hope, Sir, that if Ministers feel themselves bound to take this course
of suspending the common rights of personal freedom to a whole nation,
at least they will not allow this debate to close without giving to us
and to that nation some hope that before long measures will be
considered and will be introduced which will tend to create the same
loyalty in Ireland that exists in Great Britain. If every man outside
the walls of this House who has the interest of the whole Empire at
heart were to speak here, what would he say to this House? Let not one
day elapse, let not another Session pass, until you have done something
to wipe off this blot--for blot it is upon the reign of the Queen, and
scandal it is to the civilization and to the justice of the people of
this country.

* * * * *



[Mr. Bright was invited to a Public Banquet in Dublin. The invitation
was signed by more than twenty Members of Parliament, and by a large
number of influential Members of the Liberal Party in Ireland. This
speech was spoken at the Banquet. The O'Donoghue was in the Chair.]

I feel myself more embarrassed than I can well describe at the difficult
but honourable position in which I find myself to-night. I am profoundly
moved by the exceeding and generous kindness with which you have
received me, and all I can do is to thank you for it, and to say how
grateful to my heart it is that such a number as I see before me--I will
say of my countrymen--have approved generally of the political course
which I have pursued. But I may assure you that the difficulty of this
position is not at all of my seeking. I heard during the last Session of
Parliament that if I was likely to come to Ireland during the autumn, it
was not improbable that I should be asked to some banquet of this kind
in this city. I had an intention of coming, but being moved by this
kindness or menace, I changed my mind, and spent some weeks in Scotland
instead of Ireland. When I found from the newspapers that an invitation
was being signed, asking me to come here, I wrote to my honourable
friend, Sir John Gray, to ask him if he would be kind enough to put an
extinguisher upon the project, inasmuch as I was not intending to cross
the Channel. He said that the matter had proceeded so far that it was
impossible to interfere with it--that it must take its natural course;
and the result was that I received an invitation signed, I think, by
about one hundred and forty names, amongst whom there were not less, I
believe, than twenty-two Members of the House of Commons. Well, as you
will probably imagine, I felt that this invitation was of such a nature
that, although it was most difficult to accede to it, it was impossible
to refuse it. This accounts for my being here to-night, and is a simple
explanation of what has taken place.

I said amongst the signatures were the names of not less than twenty-two
Members of the House of Commons. I speak with grief when I say that one
of our friends who signed that invitation is no longer with us. I had
not the pleasure of a long acquaintance with Mr. Dillon, but I shall
take this opportunity of saying that during the last Session of
Parliament I formed a very high opinion of his character. There was that
in his eye and in the tone of his voice--in his manner altogether, which
marked him for an honourable and a just man. I venture to say that his
sad and sudden removal is a great loss to Ireland. I believe amongst all
her worthy sons, Ireland has had no worthier and no nobler son than John
Blake Dillon.

I shall not be wrong if I assume that the ground of my visit to Dublin
is to be found first in the sympathy which I have always felt and
expressed for the condition, and for the wrongs, and for the rights of
the people of Ireland, and probably also because I am supposed, in some
degree, to represent some amount of the opinion in England, which is
also favourable to the true interests of this island.

The Irish question is a question that has often been discussed, and yet
it remains at this day as much a question as it has been for centuries
past. The Parliament of Kilkenny,--a Parliament that sat a very long
time ago, if indeed it was a Parliament at all,--it was a Parliament
that sat about five hundred years ago, which proposed, I believe, to
inflict a very heavy penalty if any Irishman's horse was found grazing
on any Englishman's land,--this Parliament left on record a question,
which it may be worth our while to consider to-night. It put this
question to the King, 'How comes it to pass that the King was never the
richer for Ireland?' We, five hundred years afterwards, venture to ask
this question, 'Why is it that the Queen, or the Crown, or the United
Kingdom, or the Empire, is never the richer for Ireland?'--and if you
will permit me I will try to give you as clearly as I can something like
an answer to that very old question. What it may be followed by is this,
How is it that we, the Imperial Parliament, cannot act so as to bring
about in Ireland contentment and tranquillity, and a solid union between
Ireland and Great Britain? And that means, further, How can we improve
the condition and change the minds of the people of Ireland? Some say (I
have heard many who say it in England, and I am afraid there are
Irishmen also who would say it), that there is some radical defect in
the Irish character which prevents the condition of Ireland being so
satisfactory as is the condition of England and of Scotland. Now, I am
inclined to believe that whatever there is that is defective in any
portion of the Irish people comes not from their race, but from their
history, and from the conditions to which they have been subjected.

I am told by those in authority that in Ireland there is a remarkable
absence of crime. I have heard since I came to Dublin, from those well
acquainted with the facts, that there is probably no great city in the
world--in the civilized and Christian world--of equal population with
the city in which we are now assembled, where there is so little crime
committed. And I find that the portion of the Irish people which has
found a home in the United States has in the period of sixteen years--
between 1848 and 1864--remitted about 13,000,000_l_. sterling to
their friends and relatives in Ireland. I am bound to place these facts
in opposition to any statements that I hear as to any radical defects of
the Irish character. I say that it would be much more probable that the
defect lies in the Government and in the law. But there are some others
who say that the great misfortune of Ireland is in the existence of the
noxious race of political agitators. Well, as to that I may state, that
the most distinguished political agitators that have appeared during the
last hundred years in Ireland are Grattan and O'Connell, and I should
say that he must be either a very stupid or a very base Irishman who
would wish to erase the achievements of Grattan and O'Connell from the
annals of his country.

But some say (and this is not an uncommon thing)--some say that the
priests of the popular Church in Ireland have been the cause of much
discontent. I believe there is no class of men in Ireland who have a
deeper interest in a prosperous and numerous community than the priests
of the Catholic Church; and further, I believe that no men have suffered
more--have suffered more, I mean, in mind and in feeling--from
witnessing the miseries and the desolation which during the last century
(to go no further back) have stricken and afflicted the Irish people.

But some others say that there is no ground of complaint, because the
laws and institutions of Ireland are, in the main, the same as the laws
and institutions of England and Scotland. They say, for example, that if
there be an Established Church in Ireland there is one in England and
one in Scotland, and that Nonconformists are very numerous both in
England and in Scotland; but they seem to forget this fact, that the
Church in England or the Church in Scotland is not in any sense a
foreign Church--that it has not been imposed in past times, and is not
maintained by force--that it is not in any degree the symbol of
conquest--that it is not the Church of a small minority, absorbing the
ecclesiastical revenues and endowments of a whole kingdom; and they omit
to remember or to acknowledge that if any Government attempted to plant
by force the Episcopal Church in Scotland or the Catholic Church in
England, the disorders and discontent which have prevailed in Ireland
would be witnessed with tenfold intensity and violence in Great Britain.
And these persons whom I am describing also say that the land laws in
Ireland are the same as the land laws in England. It would be easy to
show that the land laws in England are bad enough, and that but for the
outlet of the population, afforded by our extraordinary manufacturing
industry, the condition of England would in all probability become quite
as bad as the condition of Ireland has been; but if the countries differ
with regard to land and the management of it in their customs, may it
not be reasonable that they should also differ in their laws?

In Ireland the landowner is the creature of conquest, not of conquest of
eight hundred years ago, but of conquest completed only two hundred
years ago; and it may be well for us to remember, and for all Englishmen
to remember, that succeeding that transfer of the land to the new-comers
from Great Britain, there followed a system of law, known by the name of
the Penal Code, of the most ingenious cruelty, and such as, I believe,
has never in modern times been inflicted on any Christian people.
Unhappily, on this account, the wound which was opened by the conquest
has never been permitted to be closed, and thus we have had landowners
in Ireland of a different race, of a different religion, and of
different ideas from the great bulk of the people, and there has been a
constant and bitter war between the owners and occupiers of the soil.
Now, up to this point I suppose that oven the gentlemen who were dining
together the other evening in Belfast would probably agree with me,
because what I have stated is mere matter of notorious history, and to
be found in every book which has treated of the course of Irish affairs
during the last two hundred years. But I think they would agree with me
even further than this. They would say that Ireland is a land which has
been torn by religious factions, and torn by these factions at least in
the North as much as in the South; and I think they would be doing less
than justice to the inhabitants of the North if they said that they had
in any degree come short of the people of the South in the intensity of
their passionate feelings with regard to their Church.

But Ireland has been more than this--it has been a land of evictions--a
word which, I suspect, is scarcely known in any other civilized country.
It is a country from which thousands of families have been driven by the
will of the landowners and the power of the law. It is a country where
have existed, to a great extent, those dread tribunals known by the
common name of secret societies, by which, in pursuit of what some men
have thought to be justice, there have been committed crimes of
appalling guilt in the eye of the whole world. It is a country, too, in
which--and it is the only Christian country of which it may be said for
some centuries past--it is a country in which a famine of the most
desolating character has prevailed even during our own time. I think I
was told in 1849, as I stood in the burial-ground at Skibbereen, that at
least 400 people who had died of famine were buried within the quarter
of an acre of ground on which I was then looking. It is a country, too,
from which there has been a greater emigration by sea within a given
time than has been known at any time from any other country in the
world. It is a country where there has been, for generations past, a
general sense of wrong, out of which has grown a state of chronic
insurrection; and at this very moment when I speak, the general
safeguard of constitutional liberty is withdrawn, and we meet in this
hall, and I speak here tonight, rather by the forbearance and permission
of the Irish executive than under the protection of the common
safeguards of the rights and liberties of the people of the United

I venture to say that this is a miserable and a humiliating picture to
draw of this country. Bear in mind that I am not speaking of Poland
suffering under the conquest of Russia. There is a gentleman, now a
candidate for an Irish county, who is very great upon the wrongs of
Poland; but I have found him always in the House of Commons taking sides
with that great party which has systematically supported the wrongs of
Ireland. I am not speaking about Hungary, or of Venice as she was under
the rule of Austria, or of the Greeks under the dominion of the Turk,
but I am speaking of Ireland--part of the United Kingdom--part of that
which boasts itself to be the most civilized and the most Christian
nation in the world. I took the liberty recently, at a meeting in
Glasgow, to say that I believed it was impossible for a class to govern
a great nation wisely and justly. Now, in Ireland there has been a field
in which all the principles of the Tory party have had their complete
experiment and development. You have had the country gentleman in all
his power. You have had any number of Acts of Parliament which the
ancient Parliament of Ireland or the Parliament of the United Kingdom
could give him. You have had the Established Church supported by the
law, even to the extent, not many years ago, of collecting its revenues
by the aid of military force. In point of fact, I believe it would be
impossible to imagine a state of things in which the principles of the
Tory party have had a more entire and complete opportunity for their
trial than they have had within the limits of this island. And yet what
has happened? This, surely. That the kingdom has been continually
weakened--that the harmony of the empire has been disturbed, and that
the mischief has not been confined to the United Kingdom, but has spread
to the Colonies. And at this moment, as we know by every arrival from
the United States, the colony of Canada is exposed to danger of
invasion--that it is forced to keep on foot soldiers which it otherwise
would not want, and to involve itself in expenses which threaten to be
ruinous to its financial condition, and all that it may defend itself
from Irishmen hostile to England who are settled in the United States.

In fact, the Government of Lord Derby at this moment is doing exactly
that which the Government of Lord North did nearly a hundred years ago--
it is sending out troops across the Atlantic to fight Irishmen who are
the bitter enemies of England on the American continent. Now, I believe
every gentleman in this room will admit that all that I have said is
literally true. And if it be true, what conclusion are we to come to? Is
it that the law which rules in Ireland is bad, but the people good; or
that the law is good, but the people bad? Now, let us, if we can, get
rid for a moment of Episcopalianism, Presbyterianism, Protestantism, and
Orangeism on the one hand, and of Catholicism, Romanism, and Ultra-
montanism on the other,--let us for a moment get beyond all these
'isms,' and try if we can discover what it is that is the great evil in
your country. I shall ask you only to turn your eye upon two points--the
first is the Established Church, and the second is the tenure of land.
The Church may be said to affect the soul and sentiment of the country,
and the land question may be said to affect the means of life and the
comforts of the people.

I shall not blame the bishops and clergy of the Established Church.
There may be, and I doubt not there are amongst them, many pious and
devoted men, who labour to the utmost of their power to do good in the
district which is committed to their care; but I venture to say this,
that if they were all good and all pious, it would not in a national
point of view compensate for this one fatal error--the error of their
existence as the ministers of an Established Protestant Church in
Ireland. Every man of them is necessarily in his district a symbol of
the supremacy of the few and of the subjection of the many; and although
the amount of the revenue of the Established Church as the sum payable
by the whole nation may not be considerable, yet bear in mind that it is
often the galling of the chain which is more tormenting than the weight
of it. I believe that the removal of the Established Church would create
a new political and social atmosphere in Ireland--that it would make the
people feel that old things had passed away--that all things had become
new--that an Irishman and his faith were no longer to be condemned in
his own country--and that for the first time the English people and the
English Parliament intended to do full justice to Ireland.

Now, leaving the Established Church, I come to the question of the land.
I have said that the ownership of the land in Ireland came originally
from conquest and from confiscation, and, as a matter of course, there
was created a great gulf between the owner and the occupier, and from
that time to this doubtless there has been wanting that sympathy which
exists to a large extent in Great Britain, and that ought to exist in
every country. I am told--you can answer it if I am wrong--that it is
not common in Ireland now to give leases to tenants, especially to
Catholic tenants. If that be so, then the security for the property of
the tenant rests only upon the good feeling and favour of the owner of
the land, for the laws, as we know, have been made by the landowners,
and many propositions for the advantage of the tenants have
unfortunately been too little considered by Parliament. The result is
that you have bad farming, bad dwelling-houses, bad temper, and
everything bad connected with the occupation and cultivation of land in
Ireland. One of the results--a result the most appalling--is this, that
your population are fleeing from your country and seeking a refuge in a
distant land. On this point I wish to refer to a letter which I received
a few days ago from a most esteemed citizen of Dublin. He told me that
he believed that a very large portion of what he called the poor,
amongst Irishmen, sympathized with any scheme or any proposition that
was adverse to the Imperial Government. He said further, that the people
here are rather in the country than of it, and that they are looking
more to America than they are looking to England. I think there is a
good deal in that. When we consider how many Irishmen have found a
refuge in America, I do not know how we can wonder at that statement.

You will recollect that when the ancient Hebrew prophet prayed in his
captivity he prayed with his window opened towards Jerusalem. You know
that the followers of Mahommed, when they pray, turn their faces towards
Mecca. When the Irish peasant asks for food, and freedom, and blessing,
his eye follows the setting sun; the aspirations of his heart reach
beyond the wide Atlantic, and in spirit he grasps hands with the great
Republic of the West. If this be so, I say, then, that the disease is
not only serious, but it is even desperate; but desperate as it is, I
believe there is a certain remedy for it, if the people and the
Parliament of the United Kingdom are willing to apply it. Now, if it
were possible, would it not be worth while to change the sentiments and
improve the condition of the Irish cultivators of the soil? If we were
to remove the State Church, there would still be a Church, but it would
not be a supremacy Church. The Catholics of Ireland have no idea of
saying that Protestantism in its various forms shall not exist in their
island. There would still be a Church, but it would be a free Church of
a section of a free people. I will not go into details about the change.
Doubtless every man would say that the present occupants of the livings
should not, during their lifetime, be disturbed; but if the principle of
the abolition of the State Church were once fixed and accepted, it would
not be difficult to arrange the details that would be satisfactory to
the people of Ireland.

Who objects to this? The men who are in favour of supremacy, and the men
who have a fanatical hatred of what they call Popery. To honest and good
men of the Protestant Church and of the Protestant faith there is no
reason whatever to fear this change. What has the voluntary system done
in Scotland? What has it done amongst the Nonconformists of England?
What has it done amongst the population of Wales? and what has it done
amongst the Catholic population of your own Ireland? In my opinion, the
abolition of the Established Church would give Protestantism itself
another chance. I believe there has been in Ireland no other enemy of
Protestantism so injurious as the Protestant State Establishment. It has
been loaded for two hundred years with the sins of bad government and
bad laws, and whatever may have been the beauty and the holiness of its
doctrine or of its professors, it has not been able to hold its ground,
loaded as it has been by the sins of a bad government. One effect of the
Established Church has been this, the making Catholicism in Ireland not
only a faith but a patriotism, for it was not likely that any member of
the Catholic Church would incline in the slightest degree to
Protestantism so long as it presented itself to his eyes as a wrong-doer
and full of injustice in connection with the government of his country.

But if honest Protestantism has nothing to fear from the changes that I
would recommend, what has the honest landowner to fear? The history of
Europe and America for the last one hundred years affords scarcely any
picture more painful than that which is afforded by the landowners of
this kingdom. The Irish landowner has been different from every other
landowner, for the bulk of his land has only been about half cultivated,
and he has had to collect his rents by a process approaching the evils
of civil war. His property has been very insecure--the sale of it
sometimes has been rendered impossible. The landowner himself has often
been hated by those who ought to have loved him. He has been banished
from his ancestral home by terror, and not a few have lost their lives
without the sympathy of those who ought to have been their protectors
and their friends. I would like to ask, what can be much worse than
this? If in this country fifty years ago, as in Prussia, there had
arisen statesmen who would have taken one-third or one-half the land
from the landowners of Ireland, and made it over to their tenants, I
believe that the Irish landowner, great as would have been the injustice
of which he might have complained, would in all probability have been
richer and happier than he has been.

What is the first remedy which you would propose? Clearly this--that
which is the most easily applicable and which would most speedily touch
the condition of the country. It is this--that the property which the
tenant shall invest or create in his farm shall be secured to the tenant
by law. I believe that if Parliament were fairly to enact this it would
make a change in the whole temper of the country. I recollect in the
year 1849 being down in the county of Wexford. I called at the house of
an old farmer of the name of Stafford, who lived in a very good house,
the best farm-house, I think, that I had seen since leaving Dublin. He
lived on his own farm, which he had bought fifteen years before. The
house was a house which he had himself built. He was a venerable old
man, and we had some very interesting conversation with him. I asked how
it was he had so good a house? He said the farm was his own, and the
house was his own, and, as no man could disturb him, he had made it a
much better house than was common for the farmers of Ireland. I said to
him, 'If all the farmers of Ireland had the same security for the
capital they laid out on their farms, what would be the result?' The old
man almost sprang out of his chair, and said, 'Sir, if you will give us
that encouragement, we will _bate_ the hunger out of Ireland.' It
is said that all this must be left to contract between the landlord and
the tenant; but the public, which may be neither landlord nor tenant,
has a great interest in this question; and I maintain that the interests
of the public require that Parliament should secure to the tenant the
property which he has invested in his farm. But I would not stop here.

There is another, and what I should call a more permanent and far-
reaching remedy for the evils of Ireland, and those persons who stickle
so much for political economy I hope will follow me in this. The great
evil of Ireland is this--that the Irish people--the Irish nation--are
dispossessed of the soil, and what we ought to do is to provide for, and
aid in, their restoration to it by all measures of justice. Why should
we tolerate in Ireland the law of primogeniture? Why should we tolerate
the system of entails? Why should the object of the law be to accumulate
land in great masses in few hands, and to make it almost impossible for
persons of small means, and tenant-farmers, to become possessors of
land? If you go to other countries--for example, to Norway, to Denmark,
to Holland, to Belgium, to France, to Germany, to Italy, or to the
United States, you will find that in all these countries those laws of
which I complain have been abolished, and the land is just as free to
buy and sell, and hold and cultivate, as any other description of
property in the kingdom. No doubt your Landed Estates Court and your
Record of Titles Act were good measures, but they were good because they
were in the direction that I want to travel farther in.

But I would go farther than that; I would deal with the question of
absenteeism. I am not going to propose to tax absentees; but if my
advice were taken, we should have a Parliamentary Commission empowered
to buy up the large estates in Ireland belonging to the English
nobility, for the purpose of selling them on easy terms to the occupiers
of the farms and to the tenantry of Ireland. Now, let me be fairly
understood. I am not proposing to tax absentees; I am not proposing to
take any of their property from them; but I propose this, that a
Parliamentary Commission should be empowered to treat for the purchase
of those large estates with a view of selling them to the tenantry of
Ireland. Now, here are some of them--the present Prime Minister Lord
Derby, Lord Lansdowne, Lord Fitzwilliam, the Marquis of Hertford, the
Marquis of Bath, the Duke of Bedford, the Duke of Devonshire, and many
others. They have estates in Ireland; many of them, I dare say, are just
as well managed as any other estates in the country; but what you want
is to restore to Ireland a middle-class proprietary of the soil; and I
venture to say that if these estates could be purchased and could be
sold out farm by farm to the tenant occupiers in Ireland, that it would
be infinitely better in a conservative sense, than that they should
belong to great proprietors living out of the country.

I have said that the disease is desperate, and that the remedy must be
searching. I assert that the present system of government with regard to
the Church and with regard to the land has failed disastrously in
Ireland. Under it Ireland has become an object of commiseration to the
whole world, and a discredit to the United Kingdom, of which it forms a
part. It is a land of many sorrows. Men fight for supremacy, and call it
Protestantism; they fight for evil and bad laws, and they call it acting
for the defence of property. Now, are there no good men in Ireland of
those who are generally opposed to us in politics--are there none who
can rise above the level of party? If there be such, I wish my voice
might reach them. I have often asked myself whether patriotism is dead
in Ireland. Cannot all the people of Ireland see that the calamities of
their country are the creatures of the law, and if that be so, that just
laws only can remove these calamities?

If Irishmen were united--if your 105 Members were for the most part
agreed, you might do almost anything that you liked--you might do it
even in the present Parliament; but if you are disunited, then I know
not how you can gain anything from a Parliament created as the Imperial
Parliament is now. The classes who rule in Britain will hear your cry as
they have heard it before, and will pay no attention to it. They will
see your people leaving your shores, and they will think it no calamity
to the country. They know that they have force to suppress insurrection,
and, therefore, you can gain nothing from their fears. What, then, is
your hope? It is in a better Parliament, representing fairly the United
Kingdom--the movement which is now in force in England and Scotland, and
which is your movement as much as ours. If there were 100 more Members,
the representatives of large and free constituencies, then your cry
would be heard, and the people would give you that justice which a class
has so long denied you. The great party that is now in power--the Tory
party--denies that you have any just cause of complaint.

In a speech delivered the other day in Belfast, much was said of the
enforcement of the law; but there was nothing said about any change or
amendment in the law. With this party terror is their only specific,--
they have no confidence in allegiance except where there is no power to
rebel. Now, I differ from these men entirely. I believe that at the root
of a general discontent there is in all countries a general grievance
and general suffering. The surface of society is not incessantly
disturbed without a cause. I recollect in the poem of the greatest of
Italian poets, he tells us that as he saw in vision the Stygian lake,
and stood upon its banks, he observed the constant commotion upon the
surface of the pool, and his good instructor and guide explained to him
the cause of it--

'This, too, for certain know, that underneath
The water dwells a multitude, whose sighs
Into these bubbles make the surface heave,
As thine eye tells thee wheresoe'er it turn.'

And I say in Ireland for generations back, that the misery and the
wrongs of the people have made their sign, and have found a voice in
constant insurrection and disorder. I have said that Ireland is a
country of many wrongs and of many sorrows. Her past lies almost all in
shadow. Her present is full of anxiety and peril. Her future depends on
the power of her people to substitute equality and justice for
supremacy, and a generous patriotism for the spirit of faction. In the
effort now making in Great Britain to create a free representation of
the people you have the deepest interest. The people never wish to
suffer, and they never wish to inflict injustice. They have no sympathy
with the wrong-doer, whether in Great Britain or in Ireland; and when
they are fairly represented in the Imperial Parliament, as I hope they
will one day be, they will speedily give an effective and final answer
to that old question of the Parliament of Kilkenny--'How comes it to
pass that the King has never been the richer for Ireland?'

* * * * *




[This speech was spoken at a public meeting held in Dublin, at which an
Address from the Trades was presented to Mr. Bright. James Haughton,
Esq., was in the Chair.]

When I came to your city I was asked if I would attend a public meeting
on the question of Parliamentary Reform. I answered that I was not in
good order for much speaking, for I have suffered, as I am afraid you
will find before I come to the end of my speech, from much cold and
hoarseness; but it was urged upon me that there were at least some, and
not an inconsiderable number, of the working men of this city who would
be glad if I would meet them; and it was proposed to offer me some
address of friendship and confidence such as that which has been read. I
have no complaint to make of it but this, that whilst I do not say it
indicates too much kindness, yet that it colours too highly the small
services which I have been able to render to any portion of my
countrymen. Your countrymen are reckoned generally to be a people of
great gratitude and of much enthusiasm, and, therefore, I accept the
Address with all the kindness and feelings of friendship with which it
has been offered, and I hope it will be, at least in some degree, a
stimulant to me, in whatever position of life I am placed, to remember,
as I have ever in past times remembered, the claims of the people of
this island to complete and equal justice with the people of Great

Now, there may be persons in this room, I should be surprised if there
were not, who doubt whether it is worth their while even to hope for
substantial justice, as this address says, from a Parliament sitting in
London. If there be such a man in this room let him understand that I am
not the man to condemn him or to express surprise at the opinion at
which he has arrived. But I would ask him in return for that, that he
would give me at least for a few minutes a patient hearing, and he will
find that, whether justice may come from the north or the south, or the
east or the west, I, at any rate, stand as a friend of the most complete
justice to the people of this island. When discussing the question of
Parliamentary Reform, I have often heard it asserted that the people of
Ireland, and I am not speaking of those who are hopeless of good from a
Parliament in London, but that the people of Ireland generally imagine
that the question of Parliamentary Reform has very little importance for
them. Now I undertake to say, and I think I can make it clear to this
meeting, that whatever be the importance of that question to any man in
England or Scotland, if the two islands are to continue under Imperial
Parliamentary Government, it is of more importance to every Irishman.
You know that the Parliament of which I am a Member contains 658
Members, of whom 105 cross the Channel from Ireland, and when they go to
London they meet--supposing all the Members of the House of Commons are
gathered together--553 Members who are returned for Great Britain. Now,
suppose that all your 105 Members were absolutely good and honourable
representatives of the people of Ireland--I will not say Tories, or
Whigs, or Radicals, or Repealers, but anything you like,--let every man
imagine that all these Members were exactly the sort of men he would
wish to go from Ireland,--when the 105 arrive in London they meet with
the 553 who are returned from Great Britain. Now, suppose that the
system of Parliamentary representation in Great Britain is very bad,
that it represents very few persons in that great island, and that those
who appear to be represented are distributed in the small boroughs over
different parts of the country, and in the counties under the thumb and
finger of the landlords, it is clear that the whole Parliament, although
your 105 Members may be very good men, must still be a very bad
Parliament. Therefore, if any man imagines--and I should think no man
can imagine--that the representation of the people in Ireland is in a
very good state--still, if he fancies it is in a good state--unless the
representation of Great Britain were at least equally good, you might
have a hundred excellent Irish Members in Parliament at Westminster; but
the whole 658 Members might be a very bad Parliament for the United

The Member for a borough or a county in Ireland, when he goes to London,
votes for measures for the whole kingdom; and a Member for Lancashire or
for Warwickshire, or for any other county or borough in Great Britain,
votes for measures not only for Great Britain but also for Ireland, and
therefore, all parts of the United Kingdom--every county, every borough,
every parish, every family, every man--has a clear and distinct and
undoubted interest in a Parliament that shall fairly and justly
represent the whole nation. Now, look for a moment at two or three facts
with regard to Ireland alone. I have stated some facts with regard to
England and Scotland at recent meetings held across the Channel.

Now for two or three facts with regard to Ireland. In Ireland you have
five boroughs returning each one Member, the average number of electors
in each of these boroughs being only 172. You have 13 boroughs, the
average number being 316. You have 9 other boroughs with an average
number of electors of 497. You have, therefore, 27 boroughs whose whole
number of electors, if they were all put together, is only 9,453, or an
average of 350 electors for each Member. I must tell you further that
you have a single county with nearly twice as many voters as the whole
of those 27 boroughs. Your 27 boroughs have only 9,453 electors, and the
county of Cork has 16,107 electors, and returns but two Members. But
that is not the worst of the case. It happens both in Great Britain and
Ireland, wherever the borough constituencies are so small, that it is
almost impossible that they should be independent; a very acute lawyer,
for example, in one of those boroughs--a very influential clergyman,
whether of your Church or ours--when I say ours, I do not mean mine, but
the Church of England--half-a-dozen men combining together, or a little
corruption from candidates going with a well-filled purse,--these are
the influences brought to bear upon those small boroughs both in England
and Ireland. A great many of them return their Members by means of
corruption, more or less, and a free and real representation of the
people is hardly ever possible in a borough of that small size.

But if I were to compare your boroughs with your counties, see how it
stands. You have thirty-nine borough Members, with 30,000 electors, and
you have sixty-four county Members, with 172,000 electors. Therefore you
see that the Members are so distributed that the great populations have
not one quarter of the influence in Parliament which those small
populations in the small boroughs have. We come next to another question
which is of great consequence. Not only are those small boroughs
altogether too email for independence, but if we come to your large
county constituencies, we find that from the peculiar circumstances and
the relations which exist between the voter and the owner of the land,
there is scarcely any freedom of election. Even in your counties I
should suppose that if there was no compulsion from the landowners or
their agents, that in at least three-fourths of this island the vote of
the county electors would be by a vast majority in favour of the Liberal
candidates. I am not speaking merely of men who profess a sort of
liberality which just enables them to go with their party, but I speak
of men who would be thoroughly in earnest in sustaining, as far as they
were able, in Parliament, the opinions which they were sent to represent
by the large constituencies who elected them.

The question of the ballot is, in my opinion, of the greatest importance
in Great Britain and Ireland, but is of more importance in the counties
than it is in the large boroughs. For example: in Great Britain, in such
boroughs as Edinburgh and Glasgow, and Manchester and Birmingham, and
the metropolitan boroughs, where the number of electors runs from 10,000
to 25,000, bribery is of no avail, because you could not bribe thousands
of men. To bribe 100 or 200 would not alter the return at an election
with so large a constituency. But what you want with the ballot is, that
in the counties where the tenant-farmers vote, and where they live upon
their land without the security of a lease, or without the security of
any law to give them compensation for any improvements they may have
made upon the land, the tenant-farmer feels himself always liable to
injury, and sometimes to ruin, if he gets into a dispute with the agent
or the landowner with regard to the manner in which he has exercised his
franchise. And what will be very important also, if you have the ballot,
your elections will be tranquil, without disorder and without riot. Last
week, or the week before, there was an election in one of your great
counties. Well, making every allowance that can be made for the
exaggerations circulated by the writers of the two parties, it is quite
clear to everybody that the circumstances of that election, though not
absolutely uncommon in Ireland, were still such as to be utterly
discreditable to a real representative system. And you must bear in mind
that there is no other people in the world that considers that it has a
fair representative system unless it has the ballot. The ballot is
universal almost in the United States. It is almost universal in the
colonies, at any rate in the Australian colonies; it is almost universal
on the continent of Europe, and in the new Parliament of North Germany,
which is about soon to be assembled, every man of twenty-five years of
age is to be allowed to vote, and to vote by ballot.

Now, I hold, without any fear of contradiction, that the intelligence
and the virtues of the people of Ireland are not represented in the
Parliament. You have your wrongs to complain of--wrongs centuries old,
and wrongs that long ago the people of Ireland, and, I venture to say,
the people of Great Britain united with Ireland----My friend up there
will not listen to the end of my sentence. I say that the people of
Great Britain, acting with the people of Ireland, in a fair
representation of the whole, would long ago have remedied every just
grievance of which you could complain.

I will take two questions which I treated upon the other evening. I will
ask about one question--that is, the question of the supremacy of the
Church in Ireland. Half the people in England are Nonconformists. They
are not in favour of an Established Church anywhere, and it is utterly
impossible that they could be in favour of an Established Church in an
island like this--an Established Church formed of a mere handful of the
population, in opposition to the wishes of the nation. Now take the
Principality of Wales. I suppose that four out of five of the population
there are Dissenters, and they are not in favour of maintaining a
religious Protestant Establishment in Ireland. The people of Scotland
have also seceded in such large numbers from their Established Church,
although of a democratic character, that I suppose those who have
seceded are a considerable majority of the whole people--they are not in
favour of maintaining an ecclesiastical Establishment in Ireland in
opposition to the views of the great majority of your people. Take the
other question--that of land. There is nobody in Great Britain of the
great town population, or of the middle class, or of the still more
numerous working class, who has any sympathy with that condition of the
law and of the administration of the law which has worked such mischiefs
in your country. But these Nonconformists, whether in England, Wales, or
Scotland, these great middle classes, and still greater working classes,
are in the position that you are. Only sixteen of every hundred have a
vote, and those sixteen are so arranged that when their representatives
get to Parliament they turn out for the most part to be no real
representatives of the people.

I will tell you fairly that you, as the less populous and less powerful
part of this great nation--you of all the men in the United Kingdom,
have by far the strongest interest in a thorough reform of the Imperial
Parliament, and I believe that you yourselves could not do yourselves
such complete justice by yourselves as you can do, by fairly acting with
the generous millions of my countrymen in whose name I stand here. You
have on this platform two members of the Reform League from London. I
received yesterday, or the day before, a telegram from the Scottish
Reform League, from Glasgow. I am not sure whether there is a copy of it
in any of the newspapers, but it was sent to me, and I presume it was
sent to me that I might read it, if I had the opportunity of meeting any
of the unenfranchised men of this city. It says:--'The Scottish Reform
League request you to convey to the Reformers in Ireland their deep
sympathy. They sincerely hope that soon in Ireland, as in Scotland and
England, Reform Leagues may be formed in every town to secure to the
people their political rights. Urge upon our friends in Ireland their
duty to promote this great movement, and to secure at home those
benefits which thousands of their fellow-countrymen are forced to seek
in other lands--where land and State Church grievances are unknown. We
also seek cooperation, knowing that our freedom, though secure tomorrow,
would not be safe so long as one portion of the United Kingdom were less
free than the other portions.' There is the outspoken voice of the
representatives of that great multitude that only a fortnight since I
saw passing through the streets of Glasgow. For three hours the
procession passed, with all the emblems and symbols of their various
trades, and the streets for two or three miles were enlivened by
banners, and the air was filled with the sounds of music from their
bands. Those men but spoke the same language that was heard in the West
Riding, in Manchester, in Birmingham, and in London; and you men of
Dublin, and of Ireland, you never made a mistake more grievous in your
lives than when you come to the conclusion that there are not millions
of men in Great Britain willing to do you full justice.

I am very sorry that my voice is not what it was, and when I think of
the work that is to be done sometimes I feel it is a pity we grow old so
fast. But years ago, when I have thought of the condition of Ireland, of
its sorrows and wrongs, of the discredit that its condition has brought
upon the English, the Irish, and the British name, I have thought, if I
could be in all other things the same, but by birth an Irishman, there
is not a town in this island I would not visit for the purpose of
discussing the great Irish question, and of rousing my countrymen to
some great and united action.

I do not believe in the necessity of wide-spread and perpetual misery. I
do not believe that we are placed on this island, and on this earth,
that one man may be great and wealthy, and revel in every profuse
indulgence, and five, six, nine, or ten men shall suffer the abject
misery which we see so commonly in the world. With your soil, your
climate, and your active and spirited race, I know not what you might
not do. There have been reasons to my mind why soil and climate, and the
labour of your population, have not produced general comfort and
competence for all.

The Address speaks of the friendly feeling and the sympathy which I have
had for Ireland during my political career. When I first went into the
House of Commons the most prominent figure in it was Daniel O'Connell. I
have sat by his side for hours in that House, and listened to
observations both amusing and instructive on what was passing under
discussion. I have seen him, too, more than once upon the platforms of
the Anti-Corn-law League. I recollect that on one occasion he sent to
Ireland expressly for a newspaper for me, which contained a report of a
speech which he made against the Corn-law when the Corn-law was passing
through Parliament in 1815, and we owe much to his exertions in
connection with that question, for almost the whole Liberal--I suppose
the whole Liberal--party of the Irish representatives in Parliament
supported the measure of free trade of which we were the prominent
advocates; and I know of nothing that was favourable to freedom, whether
in connection with Ireland or England, that O'Connell did not support
with all his great powers. Why is it, now, that there should be any kind
of schism between the Liberal people of Ireland and the Liberal people
of Great Britain? I do not ask you to join hands with supremacy and
oppression, whether in your island or ours. What I ask you is, to open
your heart of hearts, and join hands for a real and thorough working
union for freedom with the people of Great Britain.

Before I sit down, I must be allowed to advert to a point which has been
much commented upon--a sentence in my speech made the other night with
regard to the land. There are newspapers in Dublin which I need not
name, because I am quite sure you can find them out--which do not feel
any strong desire to judge fairly anything I may propose for the
pacification and redemption of the people of Ireland. It was this I
said: 'It is of the first importance that the people of Ireland, by some
process or other, should have the opportunity of being made the
possessors of their own soil.' You will know perfectly well that I am
not about to propose a copy of the villainous crimes of two hundred
years ago, to confiscate the lands of the proprietors, here or
elsewhere. I propose to introduce a system which would gradually, no
doubt rapidly and easily, without injuring anybody, make many thousands
who are now tenant-farmers, without lease and security, the owners of
their farms in this island. This is my plan, and I want to restate it
with a little further explanation, in order that these gentlemen to whom
I have referred may not repeat the very untrue, and I may say
dishonourable comments which they have made upon me.

There are many large estates in Ireland which belong to rich families in
England,--families not only of the highest rank, but of the highest
character,--because I will venture to say there are not to be found
amongst the English nobility families of more perfect honourableness and
worth than some of those to whom my plan would be offered; and,
therefore, I am not speaking against the aristocracy, against those
families, or against property, or against anybody, or against anything
that is good. I say, that if Parliament were to appoint a Commission,
and give it, say, at first up to the amount of five millions sterling,
the power to negotiate or treat with those great families in England who
have estates in Ireland, it is probable that some of those great estates
might be bought at a not very unreasonable price. I am of opinion that
this would be the cheapest money that the Imperial Parliament ever
expended, even though it became possessed of those estates at a price
considerably above the market price. But I propose it should be worked
in this way. I will take a case. I will assume that this Commission is
in possession of a considerable estate bought from some present owner of
it. I will take one farm, which I will assume to be worth
1,000_l_., for which the present tenant is paying a rent of
50_l_. a-year. He has no lease. He has no security. He makes almost
no improvement of any kind; and he is not quite sure whether, when he
has saved a little more money, he will not take his family off to the
United States. Now we will assume ourselves, if you like, to be that
Commission, and that we have before us the farmer who is the tenant on
that particular farm, for which he pays 50_l_. a year, without
lease or security, and which I assume to be worth 1,000_l_. The
Government, I believe, lends money to Irish landowners for drainage
purposes at about 3-1/2 per cent. per annum. Suppose the Government were
to say to this farmer, 'You would not have any objection to become
possessed of this farm?' 'No, not the slightest,' he might answer, 'but
how is that to be done?' In this way;--You may pay 50_l_. a-year,
that is, 5 per cent. on one thousand pounds; the Government can afford
to do these transactions for 3-1/2 per cent.; if you will pay
60_l_. a-year for a given number of years, which any of the
actuaries of the insurance offices or any good arithmetician may soon
calculate,--if you will pay 60_l_. for your rent, instead of
50_l_., it may be for perhaps twenty years,--at the end of that
time the farm will be yours, without any further payment.

I want you to understand how this is. If the farmer paid ten pounds a-
year more than he now pays, towards buying his farm, and if the
1,000_l_. the Government would pay for the farm would not cost the
Government more than 35_l_., the difference between 35_l_. and
60_l_. being 25_l_., would be the sum which that farmer, in
his rent, would be paying to the Commission, that is, to the Government,
for the redemption of his farm. Thus, at the end of a very few years,
the farmer would possess his own farm, having a perfect security in the
meantime. Nobody could turn him out if he paid his rent, and nobody
could rob him for any improvement he made on his land. The next morning
after he made that agreement, he would explain it to his wife and to his
big boy, who had perhaps been idling about for a long time, and there
would not be a stone on the land that would not be removed, not a weed
that he would not pull up, not a particle of manure that he would not
save; everything would be done with a zeal and an enthusiasm which he
had never known before; and by the time the few years had run on when
the farm should become his without any further purchase, he would have
turned a dilapidated, miserable little farm into a garden for himself
and family. Now, this statement may be commented on by some of the
newspapers. You will understand that I do not propose a forced purchase,
or any confiscation. I would undertake even to give--if I were the
Government--to every one of these landlords twenty per cent more for his
estate than it will fetch in the market in London or in Dublin, and I
say that to do this would produce a marvellous change in the sentiments
of the people, and in the condition of agriculture in Ireland.

But I saw in one of the papers a question to which I may give a reply.
It was said, How would you like to have a Commission come down into
Lancashire and insist on buying your factories? I can only say that if
they will give me 20 per cent, or 10 per cent, more than they are worth,
they shall have them to-morrow. But I do not propose that the Commission
should come here and insist on buying these estates. They say, further,
Why should a man in Ireland keep his estate, and not a man in England
who has an estate in Ireland? There is this difference. A man in
Ireland, if he has an estate of 10,000 acres, has in it probably his
ancestral home. He has ties to this which it would be monstrous to think
of severing in such a manner. But a man living in England, who is not an
Irishman, and who never comes over here except to receive his rents
(which, in fact, he generally receives through his bankers in London),
who has no particular tie to this country, and who comes over here
occasionally merely because he feels that, as a great proprietor in
Ireland, it would be scandalous never to show his face on his property
and amongst his tenants--to such a man there would be no hardship if he
should part with his land at a fair price.

I have been charged with saying severe things of the English
aristocracy. Now, this is not true in the sense in which it is imputed
to me. I have always said that there are many men in the English
aristocracy who would be noblemen in the sight of their fellow-men
although they had no titles and no coronets. There are men amongst them
of as undoubted patriotism as any man in this building, or in this
island, and there are men amongst them, who when they saw that a great
public object was to be gained for the benefit of their fellow-men,
would make as great sacrifices as any one of us would be willing to do.
I am of opinion therefore--I may be wrong, but I will not believe it
until it is proved--I am of opinion that if this question were discussed
in Parliament when next the Irish land question is discussed, and if
there was a general sentiment in the House of Commons that some measure
like this would be advantageous for Ireland,--and if it were so
expressed, it may be assumed that it would be accepted to a large extent
by the people of the United Kingdom,--then I think that a Commission so
appointed would find no difficulty whatever in discovering noblemen and
rich men in England, who are the possessors of great estates in Ireland,
who would be willing to negotiate for their transfer, and that
Commission, by the process I have indicated, might transfer them
gradually but speedily to the tenant-farmers of this country.

I am told that I have not been much in Ireland, and do not know much of
it. I recollect a man in England during the American war asking me a
question about America. When I gave him an answer which did not agree
with his opinion, he said, 'I think you have never been in America, have
you?' I said I had not; and he replied, 'Well, I have been there three
times, and I know something of them.' He was asking me whether I thought
the Yankees would pay when they borrowed money to carry on the war; and
I thought they would. But, as he had been there, he thought his opinion
was worth more than mine. I told him I knew several people who had lived
in England all their lives and yet knew very little about England. I am
told that if I were to live in Ireland, amongst the people I should have
a different opinion; that I should think the State Church of a small
minority was honest, in the face of the great Church of the majority;
that I should think it was not the fault of the landowners or of the law
in any degree, but the fault of the tenants, that everything went wrong
with regard to the land; and that I should find that it was the
Government that was mostly right, and the legislation right, and that it
was the people that were mostly wrong. There are certain questions with
regard to any country that you may settle in your own house, never
having seen that country even upon a map. This you may settle, that what
is just is just everywhere, and that men, from those of the highest
culture even to those of the most moderate capacity, whatever may be
their race, whatever their colour, have implanted in their hearts by
their Creator, wiser much than my critics, the knowledge and the love of
justice. I will tell you that, since the day when I sat beside
O'Connell--and at an earlier day--I have considered this question of
Ireland. In 1849, for several weeks in the autumn, and for several weeks
in the autumn of 1852, I came to Ireland expressly to examine this
question by consulting with all classes of the people in every part of
the island. I will undertake to say that I believe there is no man in
England who has more fully studied the evidence given before the
celebrated Devon Commission in regard to Ireland than I have. Therefore
I dare stand up before any Irishman or Englishman to discuss the Irish
question. I say that the plans, the theories, the policy, the
legislation of my opponents in this matter all have failed signally,
deplorably, disastrously, ignominiously, and, therefore, I say that I
have a right to come in and offer the people of Ireland, as I would
offer to the people of Great Britain and the Imperial Parliament, a wise
and just policy upon this question.

You know that I have attended great meetings in England within the last
two months, and in Scotland also. I think I am at liberty to tender to
you from those hundreds of thousands of men the hand of fellowship and
goodwill. I wish I might be permitted when I go back, as in fact I think
by this Address that I am permitted to say to them, that amidst the
factions by which Ireland has been torn, amidst the many errors that
have been committed, amidst the passions that have been excited, amidst
the hopes that have been blasted, and amidst the misery that has been
endured, there is still in this island, and amongst its people, a heart
that can sympathise with those who turn to them with a fixed resolution
to judge them fairly, and to do them justice.

I have made my speech. I have said my say. I have fulfilled my small
mission to you. I thank you from my heart for the kindness with which
you have received me, which I shall never forget. And if I have in past
times felt an unquenchable sympathy with the sufferings of your people,
you may rely upon it that if there be an Irish Member to speak for
Ireland, he will find me heartily by his side.

* * * * *




_From Hansard_.

[This speech was spoken on the occasion of a proposition by Mr.
Maguire, M.P. for Cork, for 'a Committee of the whole House to consider
the state of Ireland.']

When this debate began it was not my intention to take any part in it;
for I had very lately, in another place and to a larger audience, added
my contribution to the great national deliberation upon Irish affairs
which is now in progress. But the speech of the noble Lord the Chief
Secretary for Ireland, and some misunderstanding that has arisen of what
I said elsewhere, have changed my intention, and therefore I have to ask
for the indulgence of the House, in the hope that I may make on this
question a more practical speech than that to which we have just

It is said by eminent censors of the press that this debate will yield
about thirty hours of talk, and will end in no result. I have observed
that all great questions in this country require thirty hours of talk
many times repeated before they are settled. There is much shower and
much sunshine between the sowing of the seed and the reaping of the
harvest, but the harvest is generally reaped after all.

I was very much struck with what happened on the first night of the
debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Cork, in the opening portion of
his address, described the state of Ireland from his point of view, and
the facts he stated are not and cannot be disputed. He said that the
Habeas Corpus Act had been suspended for three years in his country--
that within the island there was a large military force, amounting, as
we have heard to-night--besides 12,000 or more of armed police--to an
army of 20,000 men--that in the harbours of Ireland there were ships of
war, and in her rivers there were gunboats; and that throughout that
country--as throughout this--there has been and is yet considerable
alarm with regard to the discontent prevalent in Ireland.

All that is quite true; but when the noble Lord the Chief Secretary
opened his speech, the first portion of it was of a very different
complexion. I am willing to admit that to a large extent it was equally
true. He told us that the condition of the people of Ireland was
considerably better now than it was at the time of the Devon Commission.
At the time of the Devon Commission the condition of that country had no
parallel in any civilised and Christian nation. By the force of famine,
pestilence, and emigration, the population was greatly diminished, and
it would be a very extraordinary thing indeed if with such a diminution
of the population there was no improvement in the condition of those who
remained behind. He showed that wages are higher, and he pointed to the
fact that in the trade in and out of the Irish ports they had a
considerable increase, and though I will not say that some of those
comparisons were quite accurate or fair, I am on the whole ready to
admit the truth of the statement the noble Lord made. But now it seems
to me that, admitting the truth of what my hon. Friend the Member for
Cork said, and admitting equally the truth of what the noble Lord said,
there remains before us a question even more grave than any we have had
to discuss in past years with regard to the condition of Ireland.

If--and this has been already referred to by more than one speaker--if
it be true that with a considerable improvement in the physical
condition of the people--if it be true that with a universality of
education much beyond that which exists in this island--if it be true
that after the measures that have been passed, and have been useful,
there still remains in Ireland, first of all, what is called Fenianism,
which is a reckless and daring exhibition of feeling--beyond that a very
wide discontent and disloyalty--and beyond that, amongst the whole of
the Roman Catholic population, universal dissatisfaction--and if that be
so, surely my hon. Friend the Member for Cork--one of the most useful
and eminent of the representatives of Ireland--is right in bringing this
question before the House. And there is no question at this moment that
we could possibly discuss connected with the interest or honour of the
people that approaches in gravity and magnitude to that now before us.
And if this state of things be true--and remember I have said nothing
but what the hon. Member for Cork has said, and I have given my approval
to nothing he has said that was not confirmed by the speech of the noble
Lord--if this be true, surely all this great effect must have some

We are unworthy of our position as Members of this House, and
representatives of our countrymen, if we do not endeavour at least to
discover the cause, and if we can discover it, speedily to apply a
remedy. The cause is perfectly well known to both sides of the House.
The noble Lord, it is clear, knows it even from the tenor of his own
speech--he spoke of the question of the land, and of the Church. The
noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn--whose observations in this
debate, if he had offered them, we should have been glad to listen to--
understands it, for he referred to the two questions in his speech at
the Bristol banquet. The right hon. Gentleman at the head of the
Government understands it not only as well as I do, but he understands
it precisely in the same sense--and more than twenty years ago, when I
stated in this House the things, or nearly the things, I stated recently
and shall state to-night, he, from your own benches, was making speeches
exactly of the same import. And though there is many a thing he seems at
times not to recollect, yet I am bound to say he recollects these words,
and the impressions, of which these words were the expressions to the
House. He referred to an absentee aristocracy and an alien Church. I
would not say a syllable about the aristocracy in this matter; if I had
to choose a phrase, I would rather say an absentee proprietary and an
alien Church.

What is the obvious remedy which for this state of things has been found
to be sufficient in every other country? If I could do so by any means
that did not violate the rights of property, I should be happy to give
to a considerable portion of the farmers of Ireland some proprietary
rights, and to remove from that country the sense of injustice, and the
sense--the strongest of all--of the injustice caused by the existence of
an alien Church. Just for a moment look at the proposition the noble
Lord is about to submit to the House. It is very like the Bill of last
year. I will not enter into the details, except to say that he proposes,
as he proposed then, that the Government should lend the tenant-farmers
of Ireland sums of money, by which they would make improvements, which
sums of money were to be repaid by some gradual process to the
Government authorities. He proposes that the repayment should be spread
over a considerable number of years--I do not know the exact number, and
it is not of importance for my argument. These tenant-farmers are very
numerous--perhaps too numerous, it may be, for the good of the country--
but there they are, and we must deal with them as we find them. The
number of them holding under 15 acres is 250,000; holding between 15
acres and 30 acres, 136,000; holding over 30 acres, 158,000--altogether
there are more than 540,000 holders of land. It is to these 540,000
land-holders or occupiers that the noble Lord proposes to lend money, on
the condition that they make certain improvements, and repay after a
certain number of years the sums advanced to them. I think I am right in
saying that there is no limitation in the Bill as to the smallness of
the holding to which the advance of money will be refused; and therefore
the whole 540,000 tenants will be in a position to come to the
Government, or to some Commission, or to the Board of Works, or to some
authority in Ireland, and ask for money to enable them to improve their

The House will see that if this plan is to produce any considerable
result, it will be the source of a number of transactions such as the
Government have not had to deal with in any other matter; and I expect
that the difficulties will be very great, and that the working out of
the plan with any beneficial results will be altogether impossible. What
I ask the House is this--if it be right of the noble Lord, to enable him
to carry out his plan, to ask the House to pass a measure like this--to
lend all these tenants the money for improvements to be repaid after a
series of years, would it not be possible for us by a somewhat similar
process, and by some step farther in the same direction, to establish to
some extent--I am not speaking of extending it all through Ireland--a
farmer proprietary throughout the country? If it be right and proper to
lend money to improve, it surely may be proper, if it be on other
grounds judicious, to lend money to buy. I do not know if the right hon.
Member for Calne is here; but very likely he would spare me from the
severe criticisms he expended upon my hon. Friend the Member for

Now, I am as careful as any man can be, I believe, of doing anything by
law that shall infringe what you think and what I think are the rights
of property. I do not pretend to believe, if you examine the terms
strictly, in what is called the absolute property in land. You may toss
a sixpence into the sea if you like, but there are things with respect
to land which you cannot, and ought not, and dare not do. But I do not
want to argue the question of legislation upon that ground I am myself
of opinion that there is no class in the community more interested in a
strict adherence to the principles of political economy, worked out in a
benevolent and just manner, than the humblest and poorest class in the
country. I think they have as much interest in it as the rich, and the
House has never known me, and so long as I stand here will never know
me, I believe, to propose or advocate anything which shall interfere
with what I believe to be, and what if a landowner I would maintain to
be, the just right of property in the land.

But, then, I do not think, as some persons seem to think, that the land
is really only intended to be in the hands of the rich. I think that is
a great mistake. I am not speaking of the poor--for the poor man, in the
ordinary meaning of the term, cannot be the possessor of land; but what
I wish is, that farmers and men of moderate means should become
possessors of land and of their farms. About two centuries ago, two very
celebrated men endeavoured to form a constitution for Carolina, which
was then one of the colonies of this country in America. Lord
Shaftesbury, the statesman, and Mr. Locke, the philosopher, framed a
constitution with the notion of having great proprietors all over the
country, and men under them to cultivate it. I recollect that Mr.
Bancroft, the historian of the United States, describing the issue of
that attempt and its utter failure, says: 'The instinct of aristocracy
dreads the moral power of a proprietary yeomanry, and therefore the
perpetual degradation of the cultivators of the soil was enacted.' There
is no country in the world, in which there are only great landowners and
tenants, with no large manufacturing interest to absorb the population,
in which the degradation of the cultivating tenant is not completely

I hope that hon. Members opposite, and hon. Gentlemen on this side who
may be disposed in some degree to sympathise with them, will not for a
moment imagine that I am discussing this question in any spirit of
hostility to the landowners of Ireland. I have always argued that the
landowners of Ireland, in their treatment of this question, have
grievously mistaken not only the interests of the population, but their
own. I was told the other day by a Member of this House, who comes from
Ireland, and is eminently capable of giving a sound opinion upon the
point, that he believed the whole of Ireland might be bought at about
twenty years' purchase; but you know that the land of England is worth
thirty years' purchase, and I believe a great deal of it much more,--and
it is owing to circumstances which legislation may in a great degree
remove that the land of Ireland is worth at this moment so much less
than the land of England. Coming back to the question of buying farms, I
put it to the House whether, if it be right to lend to landlords for
improvements, and to tenants for improving the farms of their landlords,
to those who propose to carry on public works, and to repair the ravages
of the cattle plague, I ask whether it is not also right for them to
lend money in cases where it may be advantageous to landlords, and where
they may be very willing to consent to it, to establish a portion of the
tenant-farmers of Ireland as proprietors of their farms.

Now, bear in mind that I have never spoken about peasant proprietors. I
do not care what name you give them; I am in favour of more proprietors,
and some, of course, will be small and some will be large; but it would
be quite possible for Parliament, if it thought fit to attempt anything
of this kind, to fix a limit below which it would not allow the owner to
sell or the purchaser to buy. I believe that you can establish a class
of moderate proprietors, who will form a body intermediate between the
great owners of land and those who are absolutely landless, which will
be of immense service in giving steadiness, loyalty, and peace to the
whole population of the island. The noble Lord, the Chief Secretary,
knows perfectly well at what price he could lend that money, and I will
just state to the House one fact which will show how the plan would
work. If you were to lend money at 3-1/2 per cent., in thirty-five years
the tenant, paying 5 per cent., would have paid the whole money back and
all the interest due on it, and would become the owner of his farm; and
if you were to take the rate at which you have lent to the Harbour
Commissioners, and to repair the ravages of the cattle plague, which is
3-1/2 per cent., of course the whole sum would be paid back in a shorter
period. Therefore, in a term which in former times was not unusual in
the length of leases in Ireland, namely, thirty-one years, the tenant
purchasing his farm, without his present rent being raised, would repay
to the Government the principal and interest of the sum borrowed for
that purpose, would become the owner of his farm, and during the whole
of that time would have absolute fixity of tenure, because every year he
would be saving more and more, adding field to field, and at the end of
the time he would be the proprietor of the soil.

Let not the House imagine that I am proposing to buy up the whole of the
land. I am proposing only to buy it in cases where men are willing to
sell, and to transfer it only in cases where men are able and willing to
buy, and you must know as well as I that there will be many thousands of
such cases in a few years. Every Irish proprietor opposite--the noble
Lord the Member for Tyrone (Lord C. Hamilton) himself, who made so
animated a speech, and appeared so angry with me a short time ago--must
know perfectly well that amongst the tenantry of Ireland there is a
considerable sum of saved money not invested in farms. Well, that saved
money would all come out to carry into effect transactions of this
nature; and you would find the most extraordinary efforts made by
thousands of tenants to become possessors of their farms by investing
their savings in them, by obtaining it may be the assistance of their
friends, and by such an industrious and energetic cultivation of the
soil as has scarcely ever been seen in Ireland. I said there were
landlords willing to sell, and there are cases in which, probably,
Parliament might insist upon a sale--for instance, the lands of the
London Companies. I never heard of much good that was done by all the
money of the London Companies. I was once invited to a dinner by one of
these Companies, and certainly it was of a very sumptuous and
substantial character, but I believe that, if the tenants of these
Companies were proprietors of the lands they cultivate, it would be a
great advantage to the counties in which they are situated. I come then
to this: I would negotiate with landowners who were willing to sell and
tenants who were willing to buy, and I would make the land the great
savings-bank for the future tenantry of Ireland. If you like, I would
limit the point to which we might go down in the transference of farms,
but I would do nothing in the whole transaction which was not perfectly
acquiesced in by both landlord and tenant, and I would pay the landlord
every shilling he could fairly demand in the market for the estate he
proposed to sell.

Well, I hope every Gentleman present will acquit me of intending
confiscation, and that we shall have no further misunderstanding upon
that point. I venture to say to the noble Lord that this is a plan which
would be within compass and management, as compared with that laid down
in his Bill, if it worked at all, and I believe that it would do a
hundred times as much good, in putting the farmer upon the footing of a
holder of land in Ireland. What do hon. Gentlemen think would become of
an American Fenian if he came over to Ireland and happened to spend an
evening with a number of men who had got possession of their farms? I
remember my old friend Mr. Stafford, in the county of Wexford, whom I
called upon in 1849, who had bought his farm and had built upon it the
best farm-house which I saw in the whole South of Ireland, and who told
me that if all the tenantry of Ireland had security for their holdings--
he was an old man, and could not easily rise from his chair, though he
made an effort to do so--'If they had the security that I have,' said
he, 'we'd _bate_ the hunger out of Ireland.' If the Fenian spent
his evening with such men as these, and proposed his reckless schemes to
them, not a single farmer would listen to him for a moment. Their first
impression would be that he was mad; their second, perhaps, that the
whisky had been too strong for him; and it would end, no doubt, if he
persisted in his efforts to seduce them from their allegiance to the
Imperial Government, by their turning him off the premises, though
perhaps, knowing that he could do no harm, they might not hand him over
to the police.

The other day I passed through the county of Somerset, and through
villages that must be well known to many Gentlemen here--Rodney-Stoke
and Drayford, I think they were called--and I noticed a great appearance
of life and activity about the neighbourhood. I asked the driver of the
carriage which had brought me from Wells what was the cause of it.
'Why,' he said, 'don't you know that is the place where the great sale


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