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CHAPTER II. The Protection Problem


and that before the committee shall have reported, the West-Indian interest will be altogether past recovery. But, sir, it is for me to consider what my power is to obtain any substantial relief by a direct vote of this House; and when I remember that in July, 1846, I moved a resolution the purport of which was, to maintain the protection for the West-Indian and the East-Indian free-labour colonies which they now seek, and that I had but one hundred and thirty gentlemen to support me, while two hundred and sixty-five votes were recorded in favour of the measure of the Government admitting slave-labour sugar, I feel that it is hopeless for me to endeavour in this House, where I have no reason to suppose any addition has been made to the members acquiescing in my views, to convert that minority into a majority; and more especially when I recollect that on that occasion but five gentlemen connected with the West-Indian and East-Indian interests recorded their votes with me, I think the West-Indian interest has not a good case against me when they blame me for not taking a more resolute step on this occasion.’

Lord Clanricarde is here—laughs at the idea of Parliament meeting in October; but talks much of the difficulties of Ireland—says he does not see how the rates are to be paid.

These efforts, though indefatigable, were not successful, for those who were competent to the office cared not to serve under any one except himself. About this time, a personage of great station, and who very much admired Lord George Bentinck, wrote to him, and recommended him not to trouble himself about the general discipline of the party, but to follow his own course, and lead that body of friends who under all circumstances would adhere to him, instancing the case of Mr. Canning, under circumstances not altogether dissimilar. Lord George replied: ‘As for my rallying a personal party round myself, as Mr. Canning did, I have no pretension to anything of the kind; when Mr. Canning did that, the House of Commons, and England too, acknowledged him to be the greatest orator who had survived Pitt and Fox; he had been Secretary of State for foreign affairs, and had taken a conspicuous part in rousing the country to carry on the war against France.’

‘Sir, the Secretary of State, in introducing this measure, maintained a doctrine which, I think, much more likely to be written in letters of blood, for he bound up the question of the corn laws with the present one. He said, that unless he could, have prevailed on his colleagues to accede to his free-trade measures as regards corn, he would not have introduced this bill. Why, sir, far from giving food to the people of Ireland, in my opinion the measures of her Majesty’s ministers will take away from the people of Ireland their food, by destroying the profits of their only manufacture—the manufacture of corn—and injuring their agriculture; depriving them of employment; in fact, by taking away from them the very means of procuring subsistence. Sir, I cannot see how the repeal of those laws affecting corn can be In any way connected with the suppression of outrage and the protection of life. What is this but to say, that unless we have a free trade in corn, we must be prepared to concede a free trade in agrarian outrage—a free trade in maiming and houghing cattle—a free trade in incendiarism—a free trade in the burning and sacking of houses—a free trade in midnight murder, and in noon-day assassination? What is this but telling the people of Ireland, that assassination, murder, incendiarism, are of such light consideration in the eyes of the Secretary of State, that their sanction or suppression by the minister of the crown hinges upon the condition of the corn market and the difference in the price of potatoes?

Had the government of 1841 succeeded in its justifiable expectation of terminating the trade of political agitation in Ireland, armed with all the authority and all the information with which the labours of the land commission would have furnished them, they would in all probability have successfully grappled with the real causes of Irish misery and misrule. They might have thoroughly reformed the modes by which land is holden and occupied; have anticipated the spontaneous emigration that now rages by an administrative enterprise scarcely more costly than the barren loan of ‘47, and which would have wafted native energies to imperial shores; have limited under these circumstances the evil of the potato famine, even if the improved culture of the interval might not have altogether prevented that visitation; while the laws which regulated the competition between home and foreign industry in agricultural produce might have been modified with so much prudence, or, if necessary, ultimately repealed with so much precaution, that those rapid and startling vicissitudes that have so shattered the social fabric of Ireland might altogether have been avoided.

Ere the publication of that document, the mortal career of Sir Robert Peel had closed, and indeed several of the circumstances to which we have just alluded did not occur in his administration; but the contrast between his policy and its results was nevertheless scarcely less striking. It was in ‘45 that he transmitted his most important ‘message of peace’ to Ireland, to be followed by an autumnal visit of her Majesty to that kingdom, painted in complacent and prophetic colours by her prime minister. The visit was not made. In the course of that autumn, ten counties of Ireland were in a state of anarchy; and, mainly in that period, there were 136 homicides committed, 138 houses burned, 483 houses attacked, and 138 fired into; there were 544 cases of aggravated assault, and 551 of robbery of arms; there were 89 cases of bands appearing in arms; there were more than 200 cases of administering unlawful oaths; and there were 1,944 cases of sending threatening letters. By the end of the year, the general crime of Ireland had doubled in amount and enormity compared with the preceding year.


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