Gladstone and the Irish Nation

By J. L. Hammond | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
THE CAUSES OF THE FAILURE OF ENGLISH GOVERNMENT IN IRELAND BEFORE 1870

In 1868 Disraeli told the House of Commons that more than one fourth of the Irish people were paupers, and paupers in a helpless condition. In 1870 Gladstone told the House of Commons that the Irish labourers were as badly off as they had been under the Penal Laws of the eighteenth century. Such was the plight of Ireland seventy years after the Act of Union, during which time Pitt's remedies for Irish poverty and Irish discord had been applied by statesmen and seconded by calamity. England was now to hear a great deal about the three Fs--Fair Rent, Fixity of Tenure, and Free Sale--which described the Ulster custom. The government and history of Ireland in the past seventy years might also be summed up in three Fs--Feudal Rights, Free Trade, and Famine. They had produced the Irish society whose evils and injustices a great Englishman tried seriously to understand and remove, when neglect and improper treatment had made them, not merely a danger to Ireland, but a danger to the British Empire.

English social history during this period is, as we have noted, the result of a revolt against the principles of government that had dominated the mind of the ruling class: principles that could be summed up in the phrase, the Rights of Property. In that revolt different forces were combined: philanthropists like Shaftesbury, thinkers like Chadwick and Kay, working class discontent expressing itself in moderate bodies like the Ten Hours Committees and rebel movements like Chartism. In the history of the Irish problem we find similar forces, and they had a considerable effect in educating opinion. They were, however, powerless against certain fixed obstacles, and by 1868, when Glad

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