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source of income, live and bring up a family on the small farms under ten or fifteen acres which form so large a proportion of the holdings in the West of Ireland.
Nevertheless, even in this respect the economic condition of Ireland has materially improved in the last thirty years. Clearances of cottier holdings have been in some cases harshly brought about, it is true; the terror of the famine of 1846 was before the minds of landlords and agents; they resolved to prevent its recurrence, and they carried out the resolution in some cases with unsparing rigour. Yet a diminution of such holdings was an inevitable condition of the improvement of Irish rural economy and husbandry. The most unsatisfactory features of the present economic situation is that so many remain. But, looking at it as a whole, one may see that what is unsoundest in it is old, what is new is improvement.
It is not the economic but the civil and political condition of Ireland then that is alarming, and some of the darkest features are new. The rent question itself is no novelty. Peremptory demands for the payment of rent, and refusals to comply, were not unknown in the golden age to which the native Irish tenant looks back. The aposiopesis in the old couplet tells more eloquently than words how such differences arose and were settled under native Irish chiefs. 'Says O'Neill to O'Donnell-If you don't pay your rentSays O'Donnell to O'Neill-I owe none, and if I didBut it is not a mere landlord and tenant question that now confronts the Executive Government and the Legislature, embittered as that is by old historical wrongs, or in some cases by the rigorous exercise of strict legal rights. A new revolutionary spirit, which draws inspiration from many different sources, is in the air, gathering round it long-standing causes of discontent, but having also an independent modern origin and a wider sweep. The people know that a revolution in the distribution of political power has already taken place, and they are anxious to realise its fruits. They have been told that the people make the land laws in America, and that in France and Prussia the land has been taken from the nobles and gentry and given to the peasantry. Whoever knows enough of the French people to picture to his mind what the civil state of France would be now, were land and property in as few hands as in Ireland, may form some conception of the ideas and feelings at work among a no less excitable and far more ignorant Celtic population. It is an uprising not only of the descendants of the oppressed against the descendants or successors of the oppressors, but of the many against the few, of the poor against the rich, that we see beginning and spreading. The landlords are only the first objects of popular envy and wrath. The large farmer is already marked out for destruction; and, with an ingratitude that adds a revolting feature to the scene, the extermination of English and Scotch settlers is threatened by Connaught peasants, who have
owed their own subsistence for many years in a great measure to the hospitality of England and Scotland, and who have been from father to son for generations competing with English and Scotch agricul tural labourers and dividing their bread.
Nor would the movement subside when the landlord, the English and Scotch settler, the large farmer, and the grazier had been hunted out of the country.' The banker, the money-lender, the shopkeeper would receive only the mercy of the Cyclops, and be devoured last. At this moment there are places in Connaught where no magistrate dares to sit on the bench, no farmer dares to sue another, no tradesman dares to present a bill. The small farmer himself would soon find that he had an account to settle with a class that possesses still less. 'J'y suis; j'y reste' is now his answer to the landlord's summons; but landless labourers may extort a different reply. M. de Lavergne, in his treatise on the rural economy of France, complained that the French Government in the treatment of rich and poor parts of that country had followed the maxim, ‘To him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.' The opposite maxim is gaining ground in Ireland, 'To him that hath not shall be given, and from him that hath shall be taken away even that which he hath.' Last year Mr. Parnell distinguished between 'the good landlords' and the bad landlords,' professing to agitate only against the latter. This year he asserts that landlordism' must be got rid of altogether, nor has he stopped there. At a meeting of the Land League a few weeks ago, he said, 'The labourers might trust him to obtain for them equal facilities with the farmers to become owners of land. He thought the League should discourage the letting of the grass lands next summer, enabling small farmers and labourers to get back the rich class of feeding grounds.' In the lowest deep there is a lower deep.
An agrarian revolt could be easily suppressed and with little bloodshed. The Irish peasant is quick to know when he is beaten, and to count odds. But the landlords and the Government would find themselves still in presence of a combination against the payment of rent. The difficulty is not to be solved by cunning statutory contrivances to deprive landlords of ownership without giving it to the tenants; thereby leaving nobody with the rights of property over the soil, and deepening the feeling on the part of Irish tenants that 'landlordism' is an incubus to be got rid of. The main object ought to be, not to surround the exercise of landownership with such penalties that practically a tenant cannot be removed, but to reinforce landowners with such an accession to their number as materially to alter the balance, to array against spoliation and anarchy a force more conservative than any army of policemen or soldiers, and to do this without establishing a precedent for legislative confiscation of the possessions of the minority by the majority. Combinations to reduce rents have not been unknown in France in recent years, but
they have never spread far, or caused danger to society, because of the multitude of landowners, and because no prudent tenant need despair of possessing a farm of his own.
Lord Beaconsfield, in a speech a year ago at the Mansion House, strove to impress on the consciousness of the nation' that' no tenure of land can be contrived except on the condition of furnishing three incomes, rent, profit, and wages,' and that the three incomes which the land in any circumstances must supply, in England are distributed among three classes, and in the lands where peasant proprietors prevail are devoted to one class.' The answer is that not only may land be had in America without payment of rent, but a system of tenure actually exists in Ireland which in many cases yields no profit, but only rent and scanty wages for indolent and unskilful labour. Where the three incomes are really forthcoming, it is of no small advantage to a locality that they should be largely in the hands of small proprietors who are never absentees. A noble absentee has told the English public something about the Portsmouth custom ' in the county of Wexford, from which he draws some 16,000l. a year, without so much as a house of his own to fill during the few days of an occasional visit. Two hundred and sixty small landowners, each with 60l. a year in rent or its equivalent, and wages and profit besides on their industry and capital, would do a good deal more for the trade of Enniscorthy in the midst of the Portsmouth estate. There are, however, better customs than the Portsmouth one on the Castleboro, the Wilton, and not a few other Wexford estates; and the best system economically and socially, is one that admits of properties of different sizes, allowing the small owner to rise, developing various types of life, and giving room for experiments in cultivation of which only large owners are capable. Such a system is in harmony with the policy of Mr. Bright's clauses in the Land Act of 1870, and with the statesmanlike views of Mr. Shaw Lefevre. So urgent, however, has become the necessity for enlisting on the side of security and order in Ireland a multitude of proprietors, that could it be done by no other means than buying out the existing landlords altogether, however great the loss of some of them might be, the transaction might nevertheless be a prudent one on the part of the State. Large sums of 100,000,000l. and upwards have been spoken of as required for the purpose; and Lord Beaconsfield, who calls the National Debt a fleabite, ought not to object merely because of the amount of the purchase money. No such sum, however, seems requisite. The rents of those landowners who were willing to accept a commutation-which might, as a general
2 Nous avons eu aussi en France des tentatives pour fonder quelque chose de pareil: tel est ce qu'on appelle dans certains cantons le mauvais gré, c'est-à-dire une véritable coalition entre les cultivateurs pour forcer les propriétaires à louer leurs terres à bas prix, ou à donner au préalable une large indemnité au fermier sortant, qu'il ait ou non amélioré le sol; mais cet abus, contraire à toute espèce de progrès agricole, et qui démoralise profondément les populations rurales, n'a jamais pris chez nous beaucoup d'extension.'-L. de Lavergne, Economie Rurale de l'Angleterre, 4me éd. p. 413.
rule, be left optional-could be converted into Land Annuities, secured on and collected by means of a land tax, levied on the tenants becoming proprietors, like local rates, by public officers under a Land Board. This Land Tax might further be redeemable by instalments payable as the new owners were able, and not at fixed periods only. It is certain that a great number of the present landlords in the western, and some in the eastern counties, would accept a commutation thus secured, escaping as they would thereby many charges, deductions, and risks incident to their present position. Lower terms too might safely be offered than would be just were they expropriated by a compulsory Act. To diminish absenteeism on the part of the land annuitants, they might be permitted to retain part of their present property in the neighbourhood of their houses in absolute ownership, free from the provisions of the Act of 1870. Existing absentees, not engaged in the public service, might be expropriated without any such option, the annuities payable to them being fixed by the Land Board on a valuation based on the average of the rents in the locality. The land held by the London Companies in Ulster might fairly be dealt with in a more summary fashion. It has no claim to be regarded as private property, and part of it might justly be applied to defray the expenses of the Land Board.
Optional commutation is not open to the powerful objections urged by Lord Dufferin against the plan of compulsory expropriation of the landlords of Ireland with compensation, proposed by Mr. Mill in 1868. It may however be asked in Lord Dufferin's words, in relation even to an optional commutation such as is here proposed-In what respect would the condition of affairs be an improvement on the present? You would not have got rid of
It would not be unjust to make even the unredeemed annuities terminable after a long period, say a hundred and twenty years, but it might be useless and inexpedient to propose it. Commenting on the gross injustice of an American economist's proposal that the State should everywhere confiscate land rent without compensation, the present writer has observed (Fortnightly Review, October 1880), that, as a matter of abstract justice, a period of four generations or 120 years might be fixed at which all landed property should lapse to the State, say in the year 2001; but this suggestion was not put forward as a practicable scheme. Mr. Alfred Wallace has since (Contemporary Review, November 1880), applied the suggestion with respect to four generations to Ireland, but with an alteration that would work grievous injustice. Instead of taking four generations as a fixed period of time, he interprets it as four successions or changes of ownership, overlooking the fact that four successions might take place in as few years, or even less. It would not be an unprecedented occurrence for a parent, who had just succeeded to an estate, and three of his children to be carried off by an epidemic; and according to Mr. Wallace's plan his other children would be left penniless orphans. Moreover, the market value of property liable to lapse in such a manner would suffer a corresponding depreciation, and existing mortgages and family charges could not be met out of it. There is no novelty in Mr. Wallace's suggestion that property should be descendible and devisable only to near relatives, nor could there be injustice in fixing a future and distant period at which such a law of succession should come into operation, but it would be most unjust to give immediate effect to it. There is also the practical objection that such a measure as Mr. Wallace proposes has no chance of adoption. What is wanted is one that will not break up the Liberal Party or the Government, and that will pass both Houses of Parliament.
"landlordism," you would only have substituted an innumerable crowd of needy landlords for the present more affluent proprietors.' 4 The answer is, look at France with its innumerable crowd of little landowners, and think what its condition would be if in their stead there were only as many landowners as in Ireland. By the creation of a multitude of small landowners in Ireland you would get rid of much of the agrarian difficulty as affecting the peace and security of society. There have been, as already observed, combinations against the payment of rent in France, but the owners of landed property were too many for them. In Ireland even now there are no attempts to assassinate public officers, because the peasantry know that the State is immortal; and under the proposed system they would be interested in its security as the guardian of their own property. But it is not proposed here to include the smallest class of holdings in the commutation, unless in cases where the Land Board should see fit by reason of special circumstances, such as a market garden near a town. The business of a great number of the cottier holdings is of too hazardous a character, and carried on in too unskilful a manner, to fit the occupants for the position of owners. To give perpetuity or fixity in any shape to them would be to perpetuate bad farming, and to prevent the more industrious, energetic, and thrifty of the class to whom they belong from bettering their position by the enlargement of their farms. The Act of 1870 went in two respects on wrong lines. Instead of boldly creating a great number of small proprietors with full ownership, it aimed at giving tenants indiscriminately an indefinite interest in the holdings, thereby causing much uncertainty and litigation, and satisfying neither landlord nor tenant. Secondly, it deliberately sought to protect the smallest holdings by higher proportionate compensation for disturbance, and other privileges. The compensation for disturbance given by the Act is in inverse ratio to the value of the holding, and one might say, as a general rule, to the skill and efficiency of the farming. In the case of holdings of above 100l. annual value, the compensation is in no case to exceed one year's rent; in that of holdings of 10l. a year and under, it may amount to seven years' rent, and so inflict a ruinous penalty for getting rid of a sluggard who is exhausting the soil, though ready to swear he reclaimed it at infinite cost in labour. This is protectionism in its most sinister form. We deem it bad economic policy on the part of the legislatures of other countries to protect domestic industries against the competition of foreigners, yet our own Legislature protects small farms, scarcely deserving to be called farms at all, against large farms, by rigorous penalties on their consolidation and privileges to their occupants. It might as wisely have attempted to protect the hand-loom against the power-loom. One may see here an instance of that tendency of modern legislation to protect par
• Examination of Mr. Mill's Plan for the Pacification of Ireland. Dufferin. P. 19. John Murray, 1868.