Editor Spirit of Jefferson. —- You will very much inform me, and, I have no doubt, many of your readers, if you explain what the causes are of the present agitation in Ireland. Poor Ireland! She seems always to have some trouble or another. Sometimes it is famine— sometimes it is something else. What is the matter? England is not only a great country, but would be surprised if you did not admit (which is the cause of her being surprised so often) that she is the wisest country in the world. Well, then, why this continual distress, disaffection and agitation in a country that is by her side and under her control? I confess I am a sympathizer with Ireland on general principles. Her orators were the glory of my boyhood, and however other may affect Tennyson, and, to me, the incomprehensible Browning, give me still Lalla Rooke and the melodies of Tom Moore. I am ashamed to say, however, that I am ignorant of the history of a land whose sons have been to me a source of so much interest and enjoyment; hence, the interest I take in the views that now fill the daily papers, and the question with which I take the liberty of troubling you. Yours, &c.
Reading this letter to a friend, who is well informed on the subject of it, we give his comments in very much his own words:
What the causes are of the present agitation in Ireland could be very briefly explained. But any brief explanation would be unsatisfactory, and only suggest further questions and the necessity of further answers. There is no royal road to learning; no short cut. To properly understand the Irish situation, it is necessary that the history of the country— its connection with England, and very especially the national character of its own people, should be studied. Had England mastered this latter branch of information, and had been governed by it in its legislations, it would have saved her much of the trouble that she had had, and much that she may yet have, with the sister Isle. Races have in latter years become rather mixed, and popularly speaking, rather than ethnologically, referring more to their habits and manners than to the blood that flows in their veins, the English are Saxons, while the Irish are in everything celtic. English governments never seem to have regarded this fact. In former times Charles James Fox saw it, and had he lived; and remained in power, much of the admirable work of Mr. Gladstone would possibly have been anticipated, and much good done Work, too, that would have been the more effective, from its being done voluntarily and in good time. Mr. Bright sees it to-day. But the fact remains as we have stated. Accordingly, England, responsive to English necessity and feeling, exacts laws for the government of the Empire, forgetting that Cork is not Lancashire, and that a coat which might fit a Cockney very well, would very likely be an inconvenient and clumsy affair on the back of a Dublinite. Let us further illustrate this matter: Suppose two or three smokers, enter a room where there are persons to whom smoking is offensive. Now, how unreasonable, how rude this would be! Well, under the circumstances, what is to be done? because let us bear in mind, that both parties have their rights. Why, the course is obvious. Divide the room by a partition, so that though in the same house, or traveling on the same train, personal taste may be gratified, and offence given to no one.
Prior to the year 1800, Ireland had a parliament of her own, just as the States of the Union have their legislatures. In that year Mr. Pitt, by means of a system of bribery and corruption that the world has condemned, deprived her of this, her local legislature, and of course of every vestige of independence. Thenceforward all laws, of however local character, were enacted by the British Parliament, the great majority of the members of which knew— leaving religious and political prejudices entirely out of the question— less about the land for which they were legislating than they did about Timbuetoe. From that hour— that melancholy hour in her history— the cry of Ireland has been for the restoration of her Parliament. A demand that is perfectly constitutional and legal, and with which naturally enough, now, as in the past, the great majority of the American people sympathize.
As time rolled on many measures were passed looking to the amelioration and the pacification, as the phrases went, of Ireland. A Catholic is obliged no longer to worship in a cave, to sell his horse, however valuable, for five pounds. The professions are open to him, and he can sit in the House of Commons. Unfortunately these measures, each and every one of them, were extracted from the fears, and not a sense of English justice. They were, therefore, followed by no national gratitude, or any of the good feelings that otherwise might have blossomed into such magnificent results. Of the measures that we have been referring to, the Act of Catholic Emancipation, passed in 1829, was actually wrung from England by O’Connell. “I have seen civil war in Portugal,” said the Duke of Wellington, “and I want to see nothing of the sort nearer home.”
Truth to say, the disestablishment of the English Church in Ireland was a great act of justice, voluntarily done by Mr. Gladstone to the people of Ireland. But even here, so great were the enormities which this act abolished, that the feeling on its passage was one, not so much of gratification, as of surpirse, that it had not been done before, or that the atrocious wrong which it corrected was ever permitted to exist. We laugh when we hear the story of Dean Swift going through the morning service, in the presence of a congregation, consisting of his clerk. It was, however, no laughing matter to the poor Catholics, who, in addition to supporting their own church and clergy, had to support the Dead and his clerk also. It is hard to believe that it is only within a few years that this system has been abolished.
And now to come to the question of our correspondent, as to the cause of the present agitation in Ireland. The purpose of Mr. Parnell and the Land League is to compel an amendment of the land laws— the law of landlord and tenant. As it is, those laws are as unjust and oppressive as if the purpose was to starve the people and keep them serfs. They offer a premium to indolence, and make industry the stepping stone to the most exorbitant imposts and imposition. The landlord class, with English-made law on their side, resent and resist any change. They are satisfied with things as they are, indeed would like to see them “a little more” so, and hence the trouble.
The correctness of the foregoing remark will be appreciated, when we say that leases in Ireland are only for one; and that if the tenant improves his land, the rent will be increased to its increased value the next year. It is to no purpose that the poor tenant exclaims: “Why, sir, the increased value that you speak of is due to the labor of my hands.” He must pay the increased rent— lease— or be evicted. That is, driven out by the authorities, to starve on the road side, in view of the little letting that his industry has made habitable, but the increased rent of which he is no longer able to pay.
The land troubles of Ireland, to which we have been adverting, and which are the cause of the present uprising of the people, are not by any means of recent date only. They began with the first occupation of Ireland by the English. Here is what Prof. Blackis, of Edinburg University, says on the subject:
“Among the many acts of baseness branding the English character in their blundering pretense of governing Ireland **** giving it to the greedy and grasping oligarchy, who sucked its blood out in the name of rent, &c.”
The fact is, the feudal tenure system has been tried by every strong government, and has everywhere been a failure. The King of Prussia sent it about its business in 1811, transferring the land from the old owners to the tenants, indemnifying the former, and masking the latter pay, and with the happiest results.
Such a transfer in Ireland would be a great reform indeed. But the real “greatness” of the ebange would be in its justice, and in the peace, happiness and prosperity that would flow from it to all concerned.
The present movement in Ireland is the best organized, so far as we can judge, and the most business like of any that has ever taken place there, albeit its leaders are unlike those on former occasions, neither poets or orators. The excitement to violate the law is very great, but we sincerely hope that the people will remember the words of O’Connell: “He who commits a crime gives strength to the enemy.”
The tidings from Ireland, just now, are the most threatening kind. On the one hand, the League is calmly, and with a great deal of determination, perfecting its organization; on the other, troops are being moved from point to point.
What the upshot will be, it is of course impossible to say. But we have great confidence in Mr. Gladstone. He is not only an able man, but a just one, and more disposed to deal fairly with Ireland than any minister that England has had since the time of Fox. We are not without hope that, whatever the intermediate experiences may be, in a little while we shall be able to say that the wretched land system has been abolished, which has been so long the curse of Ireland.
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