Why most Injurious to England

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XXX (16) start of chapter

Deplorable, indeed, would a deadly struggle be between the two great nations, speaking the same language, inheritors of a common literature, linked together by ties of interest as of blood—deplorable to the dearest interests of humanity and civilisation that such a conflict should occur; that the commerce of each country should be crippled on the high seas, that the sea-board of both should be circled with fire and sword—perhaps still more deplorable to the country which inspires such passionate attachment, and is the cause of such determined hate. Each could and would inflict unspeakable injury on the other; but were a balance of probable evil to be struck, it would be, manifestly must be, on the side of England. This may excite the incredulity or the indignation of the English reader; but there are geographical reasons why it should be so. Assuming the over-sanguine view of the case, and supposing that the title 'United Kingdom' fittingly represented the relations which, in case of war with America, would exist between Great Britain and Ireland, what, after all, is this United Kingdom? A cluster of islands, inhabited, no doubt, by a brave, hardy, high-spirited, energetic, adventurous people, whose greatness rests mainly on their industry, their enterprise, and their skill in the arts of peace,— but not so large in extent as an average State of the Union, which is now typified by the six-and-thirty stars on the banner of the Republic.

These islands are densely populated; but it may be questioned if the same population, which is a source of wealth in peace, when producing at profit for the consumption of the world, would be equally a source of wealth in the time of war, when hostile cruisers infested the seas, and made the path of commerce one of multiplied risk. England cannot feed herself, though her fields are fruitful, and she carries the science of agriculture to a more successful application than any country of Europe: she must depend on foreign sources for her supplies—at least, to supplement her own production. Check and embarrass, not to say cut off, her necessary supply from other countries, and up goes the price of the poor man's loaf to a famine standard! Even high wages would scarcely meet the enhanced price of human food consequent upon a conflict with a maritime nation. But where would the high wages come from, and by whom would they be received? Free and unfettered commerce, which means a safe and unrestricted highway, by land or by sea, is the very life of trade; but only render it necessary for the timid merchantman to cluster round the armed vessel, and seek the protection of her guns, and adieu to free and unfettered commerce, for a safe and uninterrupted highway no longer exists. Why produce calicoes, and linens, and woollens, and laces, and silks, and hardware, if you cannot depend on their reaching your customers in safety?—and if production ceases to be profitable, what is to become of the tens of thousands, the myriads, who now labour in cheerfulness, because their country enjoys the priceless blessings of peace?

The population of Lancashire may have had some idea—a faint idea at best—of the horrors of a universal paralysis of trade; a faint idea, because the country, being generally prosperous, notwithstanding the Cotton Famine caused by the Civil War in America, was able to come, and did promptly come, to their rescue. But were English customers to be reached only by blockade-runners, or by the avoidance of hostile cruisers and daring privateers, or under the protection of iron-clads and monitors, then would bitter poverty and hard privation be brought to the homes of the very workers who, being fully employed in 1862 and 1863, were able to extend the hand of fraternal assistance to the 500,000 sufferers from the failure of a single branch of our multiform national industry. Dear food, and scant wages!—humanly speaking, the most terrible calamities that can befall the working-man, his family, and his home. Those who forged cannon, manufactured rifles, and supplied munitions of war, would flourish; but, with war taxation, and war prices, and war food, and war panic, of what value would be our public securities? Then, suppose the war at an end, providentially in a year, probably in two, how many hundred millions would it have added to the National Debt, which now devours more than one-third of the entire revenue of the State?

And what Irishman can think, than without a shudder of horror, of what his country would have to go through during that tremendous crisis! The pent-up passions of centuries let loose in one wild frenzied outburst—vengeance, long brooded over, stimulated rather than quenched in blood—the hills, and plains, and valleys of that hapless land the theatre of a desperate war, the battle-field not alone of contending armies, but of conflicting races! It requires the insensibility of the Stoic to contemplate the multiplied and complicated horrors which a war with America would entail on Ireland. Turning our eyes from the awful spectacle which the imagination too readily conjures up, let us rather glance across the ocean, and see why the balance would, of necessity, be in favour of the Great Republic.

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