PEEL'S PROVIDENCE.-Sir Robert Peel was then at the head of
affairs, and the Ministry certainly foresaw the coming calamity. Inquiries were made as to the substance that would be the best and cheapest substitute for the potato. In- dian corn was adopted; and, without any public excitement on the subject, orders were given by the Government for the importation of Indian corn to the amount of 100,0001. This timely precaution, and the subsequent judicious distribution of this store, had the effect of bringing the people through the winter that closed 1845, without exposing them to any very severe privations. Arrangements were made by the Government for the supply of provisions in biscuit and rice, to a much greater extent, if needed. However men may differ as to the merits of Sir Robert Peel as a politician, whatever estimate may be formed of his measures, it is impossible to deny, that for the limited distress that existed consequent upon the partial failure of the potato crop of 1845, provision was made with the most consummate skill-at least with the most complete success. Uninfluenced by party representations, the Minister had evidently accurately informed himself of the nature of the Calamity, and clearly foresaw its extent. That he erred in fixing too early a period for its full realization, subsequent events have proved; but this was an error on the right side: and all that Sir Robert Peel predicted of the fear- ful extent of calamity which he anticipated in.the summer of 1846, has been more than realized in the spring of 1847. There is no man of any party in Ireland who does not now feel the debt which Ireland owes to the Minister for the pre- cautions that enabled us to meet the difficulties of 1846, or who is not thoroughly convinced that an imitation, and, with the extended occasion, an extension of that policy last autumn,. would have obviated most if not all of the suffering in which Ireland is now paying the penalty of the adherence of the .present Ministry, not to the doctrines of political economy, but to an utterly mistaken application of them.
It was, however, the misfortune of famine-stricken Ireland-and a deep mis- fortune almost all men in Ireland now feel it to be-that party combinations (we say not now how justifiable or honourable) removed from office the man who had shown himself alone, perhaps, of living statesmen, alive to the exigencies of the crisis, and capable of boldly and efficiently meeting them. • • •
Our sketch of this part of our history would be incomplete without alluding to the repeal of the Corn-laws, by which the session of 1846 was ushered in. On that question this periodical has already strongly and distinctly expressed its opinion, and that opinion it forms no part of the object of this article to qualify or retract. Sir Robert Peel stated, however, in Parliament, that the determination of Ministers to settle the question was forced on by their anticipation of an Irish famine; that he and his colleagues felt it world be impossible to maintain the pro- tection during that famine; and that the ports, once opened to avert starvation, never could be closed; that the agitation of the question of Corn-laws in a famine, when arguments in favour of cheap bread could carry with them such a deep ap- peal to the passions and sympathies of the human heart, would go far to break up society altogether. The coining of the Irish famine was that which, he stated, forced the Ministry to perhaps a premature decision upon this question; and we well remember the deep and solemn warning in which, with all the authority of Premier, he predicted the coming of a calamity in Ireland of which no one could know or measure the extent. • • •
Predictions that even from Sir Robert Peel were looked upon as the exaggera- tions of the politician, events have proved to have been but the language of cau- tion. Every man now can feel the pressure under which he acted in the nearer view which he took of the calamity that is now upon us. We can appreciate the sagacity that foresaw the full extent of the calamity that was coming; and we can understand the feeling under which the Premier sacrificed party associa- tions, and power, and cherished friends, to what he believed to be his duty. Thus far, at least, time has vindicated his conduct: and who is there that does not feel with what immeasurable power for evil over the passions of the multitude the agitator for a free trade in corn could now direct the fury of the mob against the Corn-law lords, by denouncing their monopoly as the cause of the horrors of Skibbereen !
We will not pause long to review the measures by which Sir Robert Peel net the difficulties of the partial failure of 1845. The early purchase at a very low rate of large quantities of Indian corn by the Government-the direction of the attention of merchants to its importation, while the Government supply prevented them from realizing exorbitant prices-the distribution of assistance through Re- lief Committees, under the superintendence of a Commission appointed on the 27th of November 1845-the keeping in reserve a store of biscuits, ready, if ne- cessary, to be applied to the feeding of the people-and some additional prepara- tions to obtain, at a short notice, an additional supply of Indian corn: these simple arrangements enabled Sir Robert Peel effectually to meet all the distress that then existed in Ireland; and but for these arrangements we would have had last year deaths by starvation, not, indeed, as numerous, but still numerous enough to have afflicted the country, disturbed its trade, and probably interfered with its cultivation.
These arrangements recognized the duty of Government to feed the people to the utmost extent to which all the resources of the empire could accomplish that end. That duty, under the more trying circumstances of this year, we are satis- fied Sir Robert Peel would have discharged; and, by a larger expenditure of money, but still an expenditure utterly insignificant in comparison with the revenue of England, be would have fulfilled it with equal ease as he had done the year be- fore.-Dublin University Magazine for April 1847.