The Tenant League and the Government

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER II (8) start of chapter

On the 9th of April, 1866, the Lieutenant-Governor, when opening the legislative session, used these words in his 'speech:'—

The general prosperity of the past year has been marred by the civil disturbances which took place in several parts of this colony. Misled by ignorant or designing men, tenants were induced to form themselves into an association with the avowed intention of withholding payment of their rents, unless their landlords consented to sell their lands on such terms as this association chose to dictate.

The law was openly and systematically set at defiance, and it became necessary to use extraordinary measures to enforce it. A requisition was therefore made for a detachment of her Majesty's troops, to aid the civil power, and the authority of the law has been firmly and impartially maintained.

But, as if to show that the popular demand was not devoid of reason and justice, his Excellency made the following important announcement:—

'I have recently concluded the purchase of another estate from one of the proprietors. It is my intention to continue to buy out the rights of the landowners, whenever I am enabled to do so on reasonable terms.'

And on the 11th of May, when the short session was formally closed, the representative of the Crown thus proclaimed the triumph, if not of the League, at least of the popular demand:—

Mr. Speaker and Gentlemen of the House of Assembly:
'The measure by which you have extended my powers of purchasing land, has my hearty concurrence; and I trust that, under its provisions, I may be enabled to purchase large estates from the proprietors.'

In the 'debate on the address' many things were said on both sides of the House which would have been in the last degree startling if uttered in the senate-chamber of the mother country. A few extracts will suffice.

First from the Hon. Mr. Coles, the Leader of the Opposition, who, referring to a proposition made by the late Duke of Newcastle, as Colonial Minister, says:—

The Duke's own proposals, however, ought to have satisfied the Government. His scheme was that if a tenant had regularly paid his rent, under his lease, for 16 years, he should be entitled to the freehold of his farm at 16 years' purchase; if for 10 years, for 10 years' purchase; and if for 8 years, for 8 years' purchase; that was according to the actual interest which the proprietor had in the leasehold, as evidenced by the amount of rent which he had received on account of it. At the time it was submitted he thought the scheme was a fair one, and he thought so still; but our Government thought otherwise, rejected it, and brought forward and carried their Fifteen Years' Purchase Bill.

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

ebook: The Irish in America