The Failure of the New Poor Law during the Irish Famine - The Last Conquest of Ireland (Perhaps)

John Mitchel
Author’s Edition (undated)

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that genial and generous brotherhood, than if I were a member even of the Atlantic Telegraph Company!

The new Poor Law was now on all hands admitted to be a failure;—that is, a failure as to its ostensible purpose. For its real purpose,—reducing the body of the people to "able-bodied pauperism,"—it had been no failure at all, but a complete success. Nearly ten millions sterling had now been expended under the several Relief Acts;—expended, mostly, in salaries to officials; the rest laid out in useless work, or in providing rations for a short time, to induce small farmers to give up their land; which was the condition of such relief. Instead of ten millions in three years, if twenty millions had been advanced in the first year, and expended on useful labour (that being the sum which had been devoted promptly to turning wild the West India negroes,) the whole famine-slaughter might have been averted, and the whole advance would have been easily repaid to the Treasury. *

Long before the Government Commissioners had proclaimed their law a failure, the writers in the Nation had been endeavouring to turn the minds of the people towards the only real remedy for all their evils,—that is, a combined movement to prevent the export of provisions, and to resist process of ejectment. This involved a denial of rent and refusal of rates; involved, in other words, a root and branch revolution, socially and politically.

Such revolutionary ideas could only be justified by a desperate necessity, and by the unnatural and fatal sort of connection between Irish landlords and Irish tenants. The peasantry of England, of Scotland, and of Ireland, stand in three several relations towards the lords of their soil. In England they are simply the emancipated serfs and villeins of the feudal system: never knew any other form of social polity, nor any other lords of the soil, since the Norman conquest. As England, however, prosecuted her conquests by degrees in the other two kingdoms, she found the free Celtic system of clanship; and, as rebellion after rebellion was crushed, her statesmen insisted upon regarding the chiefs of clans as feudal lords, and their clansmen as their vassals or tenants. In Scotland, the chiefs gladly assented to this view of the case; and the MacCallum More became, nothing loath, Duke of Argyle, and owner of the territory which had been the tribe-lands of his clan. Owing mainly to the fact that estates in Scotland were not so tempting a prey as the rich tracts of ...continue reading »

* Of these ten millions, about three have been repaid. In the case of the twenty millions for turning negroes wild, there was no expectation of repayment at all.

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