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willingness to incur future charges. Under these circumstances, the Government proposed to make the whole landed property of Ireland contribute to a national poor rate, and a Bill known as the Poor Laws Rate in Aid Bill was brought in with that object. On the second reading of this measure, Peel delivered a great speech on the policy which should now be pursued. He reverted to the condition of the Highlands of Scotland after the events of 1745, when rebellion and material distress had both done their fell work; and he suggested that, in regard to the distressed districts of Ireland, the precedent might be followed with advantage. Under an Act passed in 1752, the Scotch forfeited estates had been annexed to the Crown, and placed under the management of a Commission, whose duty was to pay off all creditors, and establish a method of management, applying the rents and profits to civilising and improving them, and preventing disorders in future. “These are my suggestions," he went on: “to seek the relief of the present distress by encouraging draining and the improvement of the land; by opening up roads through inaccessible districts; by erecting piers for the accommodation of the fisherman; by promoting emigration without interfering with voluntary emigration; above all, by facilitating the transfer of property from insolvent to solvent proprietors; and by abandoning the present injurious system of giving gratuitous relief, whether in exchange for labour or not, and reverting gradually to the principle of the Act of 1838, of applying the only effectual test—the workhouse test—as a proof of destitution.” 1
Peel, at the time he was speaking, had ceased to be a minister of the Crown, but he carried more weight with the nation at large than any of those who sat opposite to him. Although the Rate in Aid Bill was passed as a temporary measure, his proposals were accepted as indicating the policy to be pursued in future. The first result was the establishment of the Encumbered Estates Court Commission, to carry out the sale of the estates of embarrassed owners, which in the previous year had been entrusted by
1 Peel, “Speeches," vol. iv. 802.
THE ENCUMBERED ESTATES ACT
a Government Bill to the Court of Chancery, a jurisdiction which Peel wished to see ousted altogether. The Land Improvement Act followed, by which a Commission was established with funds at its disposal to be advanced to the landlords for the improvement of land, to be repaid within limited periods; the poor rate was gradually brought back within reasonable limits; and a grant of £620,000 in aid of the construction of railways was voted.
Sir W. Somerville also introduced a measure similar in conception to that of his predecessor, Lord Lincoln, for giving compensation in future to improving tenants on quitting their holding, and for the increased value they might give to their holdings. But the Bill, being viewed with dislike by the landowners, and received with disappointment by the tenantry, made no progress; and the danger of which the Devon Commission had warned the owners of the soil, that the tenants' equitable interest was constantly increasing, and a sort of embryo copyhold was in consequence growing up, remained unheeded, to breed trouble for the next generation. In 1849 the Navigation Acts were finally repealed, and by this measure, second only in importance to the repeal of the corn laws, the last obstacle to the cheap importation of food supplies was removed from the Statute-book; and a slight extension of the suffrage indicated the returning trust of Parliament in the people.
The disasters of the famine, however, had stimulated the tendency to agrarian outrage, and the Russell Government had not long been in office before they had to decide on what course they would pursue in regard to it. Amongst the members of the administration was Lord Campbell, the eminent lawyer, who at this moment was Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, with a seat in the Cabinet. He had been solicitor-general in the Governments of Lord Grey and Lord Melbourne, and for a short time had held the Great Seal of Ireland. To the whole subject of Irish disaffection he had applied the resources of his vigorous and independent intellect. He has left it on record how, when solicitor-general, he read the Coercion Bill of 1833 " with amazement and grief," and devoted all
his energies to getting it modified; and how, when Peel's Coercion Bill was passing through the House of Lords in 1846, he “kept up an incessant fire upon it in all its stages, and, by damaging it in public opinion, prepared the opposition which was fatal to it in the other House." As a member of the Russell Cabinet, he now “strongly combated 'coercion,' for which there was a demand in all quarters." "I preached up," he writes in his autobiography, “a more vigorous exercise of the existing powers of law to prevent, to detect, and to punish crime.” But he also feared "that some new measure must be resorted to in disturbed districts against the conspiracy to commit murder and systematically violate the rights of property.” This, he trusted, would be rather in the nature of a police measure than a violation of the constitution. “We should ask for coercion,” he argued, "with a very bad grace, having come into power upon a division for refusing it to Sir Robert Peel."1 The measures now brought forward bore the stamp of his mind more, perhaps, than that of any other member of the Cabinet. It was not proposed to suspend the writ of Habeas Corpus, or the right to trial by jury, or to terrorise the country by unusual punishments. To prevent outrage and disturbance, the provisions of the Arms Act were simply renewed, with amendments which empowered the Lord-Lieutenant to proclaim districts and to increase the police force in them, charging the cost on the ratepayers.
There was yet, however, to be a final wrestle with the forces of rebellion, and between rebellion and agrarian disturbance the Cabinet knew how to distinguish. The advocates of armed insurrection saw in the sufferings of the masses of the population a fresh argument in their own favour. The Russell Government, which the results of the general election of 1847 had materially strengthened, soon became aware that the extreme section of the Young Ireland party had got the upper hand, represented by men who denounced Dillon and Duffy for their moderation, just as the latter had found fault with O'Connell for what they considered his backslidings. They were reinforced at this 1848] THE REVOLUTION PARTY IN IRELAND 417 moment by Thomas Francis Meagher, whose oratory, in the opinion of competent judges, recalled the eloquence of the great days of the former century; and by John Mitchel, who took the place on the Nation rendered vacant by the death at this juncture of Davis. The policy of action hitherto advocated by the Nation was too mild for the new contributors, and they founded a newspaper of their own, the United Irishman, which, in sympathy with the Continental movement of the time, openly advocated “revolution" as the sole remedy for Irish wrongs. Smith O'Brien had now definitely thrown in his lot with the Repealers; and, having convinced himself that justice was not to be expected from Parliament, he went on a deputation to France, with a view of interesting Lamartine, then at the head of the recently formed republican government, in the Irish cause.
1 “Life of Lord Campbell,” vol. ii. pp. 27, 199, 232.
The armed assistance of France had long been the dream of patriotic Ireland, especially of that section of it which was imbued with the revolutionary legend, and looked back with fond regret to the days of Wolfe Tone and Hoche. Lamartine had declared, with that fatal facility for sonorous but misleading phrases for which he was famous, that France was the friend of all oppressed nationalities; but when brought face to face with his own declarations on the one hand, and the responsibilities of government on the other, he decided in favour of the latter, and gave but cold comfort to the deputation of his enthusiastic Irish admirers. The party of action, however, were not discouraged. The year 1848 had seen the greatest crowned heads of Europe escaping from their capitals, and ministers of ancient fame and reputation flying for their lives. Why should not similar events, they argued, be seen in Ireland, and the walls of Dublin Castle fall down before the blast of the trumpet of the Irish Revolution ? The Chartist movement was daily becoming more and more formidable in England, and an Irishman was taking the leading part in its direction. Why, they thought, should not the two movements go handin-hand, and the two peoples be liberated simultaneously? Of all these things there was a great deal of talk in Ireland, and that a rebellion was seriously planned there can be no reasonable doubt. Equally little doubt is there that serious preparations for a rebellion there were none; and that the heads of the movement, deceived by what they had seen passing on the Continent, altogether underrated the strength of their antagonists.
With clear evidence of the intentions of Smith O'Brien and his allies in their possession, the Government determined to prosecute them for conspiracy, and to take precautions against rebellion. The provisions of the English Acts of 1796 and 1817, amending the law of treason, were made to apply to Ireland, and the provisions of the Alien Acts were temporarily renewed. In the first instance, the proceedings against Smith O'Brien and his colleagues proved abortive; but in a further prosecution against Mitchel alone the Crown lawyers were more successful, and Mitchel was sentenced to transportation. A general rising was apprehended in consequence, and it was therefore deemed advisable to take the further precaution of suspending the Habeas Corpus Act till the ist of March 1848. But no real preparation for rebellion had been made by the so-called party of action, and they were discouraged by the collapse of the Chartist movement in England in the month of April. After the suspension of the Act, Smith O'Brien, Meagher, and Dillon departed into the country from Dublin, and went through some of the forms of raising a revolt; but nobody joined them. There was an encounter with the police in Tipperary, at a place called Ballingarry, on August 5. Smith O'Brien was arrested, and the abortive rebellion was over.
In the trial which followed, Smith O'Brien and the principal leaders were condemned to death; but the sentence having been commuted, O'Brien and Meagher, together with John Martin, M'Manus, and O'Docherty, followed Mitchel to Van Diemen's Land. Such was the end of the “Young Ireland" party in Ireland. In other countries, many of their number proved that they had talents, which a wise administration would have known how to conciliate or to use for the service of the state at home. Thomas Davis, the ablest and most statesmanlike of his party, had been spared the pain of witnessing this failure.