Gladstone and the Irish Nation

By J. L. Hammond | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
ENGLISH AND IRISH DISCONTENT. A COMPARISON

It is always a most difficult task which a people assumes when it attempts to govern, either in the way of incorporation or as a dependency, another people very unlike itself. But whoever reflects on the constitution of society in these two countries, with any sufficient knowledge of the states of society which exist elsewhere, will be driven, however unwillingly, to the conclusion that there is probably no other nation of the civilized world, which, if the task of governing Ireland had happened to devolve on it, would not have shown itself more capable of that work than England has hitherto done. The reasons are these: First there is no other nation which is so conceited of its own institutions, and of all its modes of public action, as England is; secondly there is no other civilized nation which is so far apart from Ireland in the character of its history, or so unlike it in the whole constitution of its social economy; and none therefore, which, if it applies to Ireland the modes of thinking and maxims of government which have grown up within itself, is so certain to go wrong."

J. S. MILL, England and Ireland, 1868.

To understand the history of Ireland in the half century that followed the Union it is a help to glance at the history of England. For the Union brought the Irish people under the class that governed the English; if the rule of that class was harsh and short-sighted in Ireland, it was harsh and short-sighted in England; if the Irish people had reasons for discontent, so had the English; if Ireland had her Whiteboys and her Rockites, the English had their Luddites and Captain Swing; the Governments that threw Coercion Act after Coercion Act to Ireland and sent troops to crush the peasants, passed the Combination Laws, praised the violence of Peterloo, and gave England the Six Acts as a remedy for unemployment and distress. The Reform Bill did not put an end to the disturbances that marked the painful rise

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