27 JULY 1850, Page 13


WHATEVER amount of general soundness there may be in the Eng- lish national faith in the converse of the apostolic proposition, it must nevertheless be admitted that money is not the root of all good. It is not easy, however, to incline John Bull to the adop- tion of this opinion • and it would be no matter of surprise to us to hear that respectable gentleman reply, with perfect self-com- placency, to our proofs of the failure of his design for the amelio- ration of the condition of the Irish poor, by counting the ciphers in the total of his outlay in that behoof. Indeed, we have known foremost members of the family answer all complaints of wax- ing poverty and waning capital and fainting industry, by showing, not that there had been a successful or a judicious attempt made to stay those evils, but that there had been an expenditure in the matter of millions of pounds sterling. "Here," for example, some Chancellor of the Exchequer or Prime Minister will say, "is a return which shows that there has been spent upon the Irish poor in the year 1849, 2,177,6501.; and that more than two-thirds of that large sum, which is itself a sixth of the yearly value of the real property of Ireland, has been extracted out of that property. What more could be done P" And should it be suggested that the same paper contains evidence that one-third of the whole out- lay, or 700,7521., went, not to the poor, but in the expenses of management, he will pooh-pooh such particularity, and, with his finger on the total, triumphantly close the discussion. But, on the other hand-, perhaps the advocates of Poor-law re- form have limited their argument too much to the proof of the ex- istence of evils, and have too slightly considered or indicated their proximate and removeable causes. 'Their apparent design too often is' or is assumed to be, to redress the mischief caused by the Poor- law by a summary abrogation of the law itself. It is true that the burning of the candle at both ends, which is proceeding, would be effectually stopped by at once extinguishing it : but that will not be done; it will rather be permitted to burn itself out; neither will the bleeding and water cure be relinquished so long as there is a drop of vital fluid in the body or room for the infusion of more diluents. It is wise, therefore, to set about trimming the light, and moderating the activity of the depletion, rather than to per- severe in the vain attempt to put out the one or perfunctorily to stop the other. Let us see, then, if it may not be possible to break some of those vicious circles wherein capital and labour are under- going a process of constant consumption, and pauperism alone is reproduced. In so far as this course can be changed, to the seine extent will the accomplishment of the original design of the Poor- law be advanced.

As our aim is merely to throw out hints, it is of little import- ance at what part of the subject we begin. We will take a point wherein the Irish Poor-law materially differs from that of g- land, and also from its own original. One of the theories upon which the system was based, and which still furnishes the most plausible arguments used in its defence, is framed out of the sup- position of the influence of its pressure in stimulating employment, by inducinF the wealthier to pay wages in preference to rates, and by impressing upon the poorer, as a class the advantage of living upon the fruits of their own industry rather than upon public alms. With these objects in view, all the inhabitants who possessed any local property were taxed for the support of the destitute in their respective districts ; and thus the poorest of the industrious as well as the richest proprietors were linked in a common interest to pre- vent destitution and were periodically informed, by the rate-col- lector, of its actual amount. Every cottier was thus made to feel that the insertion of an impostor's name upon the division relief- list, was in fact the abstraction from his own use of a certain por- tion of the earnings of his industry, and, on the other hand, that every form of employment that could be devised or encouraged in his neighbourhood would render his enjoyment of the fruits of his own labour more secure. Such was the theory and practice during the first few years of the Irish Poor-law experiment; when both were sacrificed to the legislative whim that exempted all persons rated under 4/. annual value, from liability to poor-rate, and threw the onus of their contributions upon the landlord under whom they held, or, in the jargon of the law, upon the "immediate lessor." Thus a class of probationary paupers was at once created, relieved from all share and responsibility in the fiscal working of the law, but largely interested, on behalf of neighbours, relatives, and selves, in a free and ample distribution of the alms-fund pro- vided by it. The higher the rate the better, under the new ar- rangement, did, it seem to the holder of a tenement valued at or un- der 4/. by the year. Ile saw not the ultimate ruin that must ne- cessarily follow a boundless unproductive consumption : he looked only to the shower of public money which he knew was not di- rectly drawn from his own resources, and which he didnot imagine likely to produce any other than a fertilizing effect. But mis- chievous as was this operation of the 4/. exemption, it was harm- less in comparison to the consequential evil it brought upon those whom it was intended to benefit. The transfer of the liability to rate, from the occupier to the "immediate lessor," altered the na- ture of the debt and fixed it as a personal lien upon the latter, who was consequently obliged to pay .rates, even though he might re- eeive no rent,—who was thus, in fact, practically subjected to a heavy fine for the crime of ownership—generally, during the last four years, merely nominal Here was the landlord coerced by a penal law to evict his tenants and to clear his lands. A kindly or a careless man might shrink from the adoption of harsh mea- sures to regain possession of property which made him no return ; but the law interposed, and declaredd, that mercy should in this ease be twice punished—punished by the -withholding of rent, punished by the exaction of a poor-rate often approaching in amount to the full value of the land. This is the true story of the evictions and clearances of later years: in 1843, upwards of half a million of tenants, the occupiers of more than 1f the tenements in Ireland, were by statute exempted from poor-rate, and the liability thrown upon the proprietors. When the potato crop failed those occupiers paid no rent; it was seldom, we believe, urgently demanded, and two or three years' arrears accumulated ; then actions for the poor- rate of those very tenements were taken against the landlord in the superior courts ; the 51. debt was made 20/. by law costs; his goods, perhaps in a distant county, were taken in execution; his body was in peril of arrest ; it became necessary for his own safety, and not more for that than for the safety of his tenants, that he should extract from the soil the means of defraying his liabilities : he was thus forced by the law to drive the starving and listless occupiers of his farms from their cabins, to the miserable refuge of the work- house.

But the 4/. exemption in the Irish Poor-law is not the only mischievous variation from the English model. The pauperizing operation of that provision is well supported by a long train of legal machinery. All tenants rated under 4/. are completely re- lieved from responsibility as to the payment or expenditure of the poor-rate : all tenants rated above that sum are likewise exempted in a proportion varying from one-half to the whole of the rate. An occupier may deduct from each pound of his rent "one-half of the sum which he shall have paid as rate, in respect of each pound of the net annual value." By this arrangement, it is mani- fest, that if the holding be valued at half the amount of the rent, the occupier pays no portion of the rate; and thus a permanent war upon the subject of valuation is kept up be- tween the classes of landlords and tenants, and a mystification is thrown over the intrinsic marketable value of the land, which tends much to restrict and complicate the trade in that commodity. In England, when two parties deal for the hiring of a farm, they mutually consider the net value of the soil over and above allrates and charges: in Ireland, they look upon the poor-rate as an un- certain quantity, which it may be in the power of either of them to alter, according as he may be able to exercise political or other in- fluence over the guardians who fix the rateable value that deter- mines not only its actual amount but its proportional incidence. And when this has been determined, our English readers will, no doubt, conclude that each party will be held to his special liability, and that neither of them will be bound for the debt imposed by the law upon the other. Such a conclusion would be erroneous. In England an occupier is liable for rates struck during his occupa- tion, but for none other : in Ireland a tenant may build adverse possession for two or three years, during which period (as often happened since the commencement of the potato famine) he pays neither rent nor rates. At length he is evicted, or voluntarily de- ports; and then the land itself and the person and other property of its owner become liable for all the arrears; for which he may be sued in any of the superior courts of record, by civil bill in the court of proper jurisdiction, or by complaint before a justice, and warrant of distress. Thus it is net only possible under this law, but of actual and not unfrequent occurrence, that proprietors are utterly ruined by legal persecution for debts they never contracted, and which were incurred by tenants having possession of their property under the sanction of a lease. Nor is a general over- throw of landlords the most mischievous result of these iniquitous provisions. The blow which prostrates the owner desolates the land. No one dares to occupy a farm, when he knows that if he brings a single sheep into the fields, or a single stool into the house, he gives the signal of attack to an army of union bailiffs. And so the vicious circle becomes daily wider i • the wasted land grows only weeds and poor-rate arrears ; the labourers who should have tilled it want employment and food; the union establish- ment, which its produce was expected to support or relieve from pressure, falls deeper into debt; the contractors, who have fed paupers upon credit, become insolvent, and—the end approaches.

The causes of evil we have hinted at are removeable, and espe- cially so inasmuch as they do not exist, and would not be tole- rated for a moment, in the English system of poor-relief. Our hints are not yet exhausted; but we reserve the rest for another paper, which will probably close the series.