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“only security for a supply of food.”* The want of capital in connexion with land is evidently the main-spring of all. Proprietors, agents, tenants, all parties connected with land, seem to have forgotten, that capital is as necessary for its effective cultivation, as for the working of a manufactory. Unless increased capital be expended on the land, it is impossible to employ the surplus labour of the country. It is in vain to expect that capital will be so expended, unless there be ample security. Some tenants have money hoarded, or lodged in a bank at a low rate of interest; but under present circumstances, it is not likely to be expended on their farms. Some landlords, also, are possessed of capital; but do not consider it their interest to employ it for the improvement of an estate, in which they have only a life-interest. If the means now possessed by landlords and tenants are to be rendered useful, they must be given a better legal security than the present laws afford them. But this would not be enough. The capital held by those interested in land, is notoriously insufficient for the full developement of its resources. Does any means exist, by which this want can be supplied, except by the free and unrestricted sale of landed property; which, by opening the land to men of capital, may afford the means of improving it, and supply funds for its effective cultivation, and for the employment of the peasantry on it 2 The power of sale would benefit the present embarrassed proprietor, by freeing him from heavy charges, and supplying him with means for the proper care of the portion he might retain ; and the new purchaser would enter on the property with the intention of improving it. The laws of a country may be enforced, either by the arbitrary control of irresponsible power, or by the strength of public opinion, approving and seconding the acts of a government based on a respect for individual rights. The first requires force sufficient to repress any expression of discontent, and must often dispense with the regular forms of law. A government based on popular institutions fails to secure order, unless it have the support of the people. Ireland appears to labour under the difficulty of having aristocratic social institutions, without an aristocracy; and the mechanism of a popular government, inapplicable to its present social condition; because it does not possess an educated middle class, by whom these popular institutions might be worked. The great mass of the rural population have no respect for the laws relating to the tenure of land, because they consider them unjust. They not merely give no assistance to their enforcement; they are positively hostile. The only parties to assist in supporting them, are the landed proprietors, or those beneficially interested in land. The great landed proprietors are non-resident. The residents are few in number, and in many cases their influence is greatly lessened by their well-known embarrassments, and by the disreputable shifts, to which they are often forced by want of means to resort. To revert to arbitrary power is impossible. The only practicable course is, to elevate us to a capacity for using and enjoying the popular institutions we possess. Is there any means so likely to effect this as the free sale of land; by which the number of proprietors may be increased, and their pecuniary respectability secured; by which the industry of the tenant farmer may be stimulated, with the prospect of one day becoming a proprietor; and by which hostility may be neutralized, or co-operation obtained from all, who may hope hereafter to possess a stake in the country
* “Digest of Evidence,” vol. i. pages 319, and 321.
Poor laws—Great want of employment—Large number of helpless poor— Great difference between England and Ireland, as respects the value of property assessed for poor-rate—Property adequate to the support of the poor in the greater part of Ireland–Difficulty of collecting rates— Danger of pauperising the rate-payers in some districts—Necessity of enforcing payment from all who are able to pay—Union-rating considered—Average area and population of unions and electoral divisions much greater than those of unions and parishes in England–Parochial system considered—Management and taxation should be localized– Great extent of some unions and electoral divisions—Injurious effects —Management by local committees proposed—Objections answered— Inequality of taxation–Clearance system—Law of Settlement—Irish paupers in England—Removal of paupers sometimes very oppressive —Objections to localizing the taxation—Some electoral divisions unable to support their poor—A national rate considered—If any district be overburdened, aid should be given by the state—Supposed case of Manchester, in the event of a total failure of the cotton crop–Suggestion of Professor Hancock—Collection of rates must be enforced— Means of facilitating it—Appointment of inspecting officers suggested —Necessity of a middle class for efficient working of poor law.
To discuss the value of the poor law as a means of improvement may now seem useless. It exists. Its good or evil consequences mainly depend on the way it is worked. It remains for us, by judicious and economical management, to render it efficient for the relief of the destitute, without pressing too heavily on the resources of the country. This is a work of no small difficulty. The law comes into operation at a most unfavorable time, when a national calamity, unprecedentedly great, has reduced so many of the poor to destitution, and has so much lessened the means of those who were heretofore rich. Under such circumstances, with so few whose education and position in society fit them to assist in the work, the attempt to carry into operation the untried provisions of a new law presents difficulties of no ordinary character. The loss of the potato crop in 1846, deprived a large proportion of our population of the means of support. During the succeeding winter, they were maintained by employment on public works; and in the spring and summer, by rations distributed under the temporary relief act. They are now again without the means of subsistence, and the ordinary sources of employment are utterly insufficient. In some parts, the farmers, though in want of labourers, seem to be without the money to pay them. A gentleman writing from Castlebar, in the county of Mayo, under date 27th of September, says: “This is, without exception, the worst “country for the employment of labourers, that has “come under my observation. I have seen crowds “of men standing in the streets of this town, with O