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 God has blessed Ireland—and does still bless her—in position, in soil, in climate; He has not withdrawn His promises, nor are they unfulfilled; there is still the sunshine and the shower; still the seed-time and the harvest; and the affluent bosom of the earth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 peace.
* * * * *
HABEAS CORPUS SUSPENSION BILL.
HOUSE OF COMMONS, FEBRUARY 17, 1866. [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 Parliament.
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 discussed.
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.
* * * * *
DUBLIN, OCTOBER 30, 1866. [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 13,000,000l. 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 Kingdom.
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?'
* * * * *
DUBLIN, NOVEMBER 2, 1866.
[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 Britain.
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 Kingdom.
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 1,000l., for which the present tenant is paying a rent of 50l. 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 50l. a year, without lease or security, and which I assume to be worth 1,000l. 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 50l. 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 60l. 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 60l. for your rent, instead of 50l., 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 1,000l. the Government would pay for the farm would not cost the Government more than 35l., the difference between 35l. and 60l. being 25l., 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.
* * * * *
HOUSE OF COMMONS, MARCH 14, 1868.
[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 listened.
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 cause.
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 farms.
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 Westminster.
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 assured.
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.