'Confiscation' profitable to the Government, and beneficial to the People

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER II (9) start of chapter

The Solicitor-General, the official organ of the Government, defends the Fifteen Years' Purchase Bill, which, though derided for its shortcomings by the Leader of the Opposition, would be regarded in the British House of Commons as a measure of sweeping confiscation worthy of the French Revolution, or the days of Jack Cade. That learned gentleman says :—

In every Session of the Legislature since the passage of the Fifteen Years' Purchase Bill have the Opposition assailed the Government, on the assumed grounds that that Bill was no boon to the tenantry, was unacceptable to a majority of them, and could not by any possibility be made advantageous to them. He, however, confidently maintained that the Bill was a handsome instalment of all the benefits promised to the tenantry, by the party in power, through legislative action with respect to the Land Question. By means of it large arrears of rent have been expunged from the books of proprietors, and declared irrecoverable, as against all tenants who shall avail themselves of the provisions of the Bill for the purchase of the fee-simple of their farms. Whilst the tenants' improvements were in existence they were a sufficient security for the recovery of all arrears of rent. On one-third of Lot 34, the property of Sir E. Cunard. the tenants, by having availed themselves of the advantages extended to them by that Bill, had had over 1,000l. of arrears wiped off, every farthing of which could have been recovered by the proprietor, because the tenants were, in reality, men of wealth. It was the same on the Sullivan property. There were many tenants upon the estates affected by the Fifteen Years' Purchase Bill, to whom, before the passing of it the proprietors would not consent to sell the fee-simple of their farms even at 20s. or 30s. per acre; but those proprietors were now compelled to part with the fee-simple of their leased lands at 15 years' purchase.

With the following passage from the speech of the Hon. J. C. Pope, who must be described as the Prime Minister of this sufficiently-governed colony, these extracts may be closed. Nor is it the least significant of the entire. He shows that the purchase and re-sale of the great properties has been a paying speculation for the Government; and he adds his official testimony to the universality of the feeling in favour of the conversion of tenancies into fee-simple—or, as he emphatically expresses it, 'the freeing of the country from the burden of the leasehold or rent-paying system.'

'Nearly all the money which the Conservatives have expended in the purchase of proprietary estates has been refunded. Every estate which we have bought has proved a paying speculation. We have had a profit upon every one of them. I think the Government will be justified in purchasing all the estates they can, and carrying on, as quickly as possible, the freeing of the country from the burden of the leasehold or rent-paying system; and whether I may be in the Government or out of it, I will do all in my power to bring about so desirable a consummation.'

So much for the Land Question of the British Colony of Prince Edward Island, which Sir Bulwer Lytton was as anxious to settle on satisfactory terms to the colonists as was the Duke of Newcastle. To statesmen who recoil with dismay from the least invasion of the ' rights of property' it may afford matter for useful reflection.

Before dismissing the subject, I may add, on the authority of men of all parties, classes, and positions, that not only are the Irish amongst the most thrifty, energetic, and improving of the agricultural population, but they are remarkable for their punctuality as rent-payers. I had no opportunity of visiting more than two of the settlements exclusively Irish; but I was generally assured that the other Irish settlements were in every respect equal to those I had seen.

While I was in the island, an Irishman, who had not many years before come out as a labourer, sold a farm for 1,000l., retaining another worth double that amount. 'I came out here with little in my pocket,' said an Irishman from Munster, from the borders of Cork and Tipperary, 'and I thank God I am now worth over 2,000l.' This was said, not boastingly, but in gratitude to Providence for the blessing which had attended his humble industry. 'I had nothing to depend on but God and my own four bones,' said another successful Irishman to me in Prince Edward Island; and this form of phrase, so expressive of self-reliance and trust in the Divine assistance, I heard repeated by men of the same persevering and pious race throughout the United States and the British Colonies. 'I had no one but God to help me,' is a common expression with the Irish everywhere.

The sums mentioned as the results of honest industry, and self-reliance of the most elevated character, though respectable in amount, by no means indicate the position obtained by many Irishmen in the colony. There are instances of success in trade to which the possession of a couple of thousand pounds would be but a small affair indeed. However, the moderate success and modest independence of a considerable number in a community is far more indicative of general prosperity than the extraordinary success and the large possessions of a few; and it is satisfactory to know that the generally good position of the Irish in this small colony is not only a fact well established, but that it is admitted to be the result of integrity, intelligence, and good conduct.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

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