« AnteriorContinuar »
worst form. In England, the vast majority of the inhabitants are Protestants, and the lands of the rich, as well as of the poor, are equally taxed for the support of the Church. But the reverse of all this has place in Ireland. There, the provision for a Protestant establishment is chiefly drawn from Catholics; and while the potatoe garden of the poor cotter is tithed to the utmost extent, the flocks of the extensive and opulent grazier are entirely exempted! Primate Boulter, whose administration commenced in 1724, and ended about 1742, in a letter to Sir Robert Walpole, thus writes. Since the Reformation, while the lands were mostly in Popish hands, the clergy took what they could get, thankfully; and very few went near their living to do their duty.' Matters continued.in this state until the capitulation of Limerick restored tranquillity to Ireland, and threw almost all the benefices into the hands of Protestant rectors. Subsequently to this period, the clergy began gradually to reassume their constitutional rights; and about the year 1720, formally demanded payment of the tithe of agistment, or the tithe of cattle and other produce of grass lands. But although the right of the clergy to this tithe was equally clear and indisputable as their right to the tithe of tillage lands, it was vehemently resisted by the landlords. The clergy appealed to the Court of Exchequer, who, after a full and patient hearing of the case, decided it in their favour. This, however, did not put the question to rest; for, shortly after the decision of the Court, the Irish House of Commons resolved (18th March, 1735), that any lawyer assisting in a prosecution for tithes of agistment, should be considered as an enemy to his country.' By this extraordinary resolution, adopted when the cultivated land in Ireland was not the hundredth part of what it is at this moment, this honourable assembly robbed the clergy of the principal source of their income, and threw the burden of their support entirely on the proprietors of tillage lands. Such was the footing on which the tithe of agistment stood at the period of the Union, when Sir John Macartney, aware that the resolution of 1735 was not law, moved that the abolition of the tithe of agistment should stand as a part of the act. This propositon was intended only as a stratagem to defeat the Union.
• It was not expected that the minister would agree to such a measure ; while on the other hand it was confidently believed that it would act like magic, in urging the body of landed proprietors to oppose the Union, which would be the means of making this tithe revert to its original owners. The minister, however, instead of resisting the measure, suffered it quietly to pass ; and that which, before the U. nion, was only a resolution of the House of Commons, is now a formal act of the Imperial Parliament.'*
Besides the striking injustice of having one part of society relieved from a burden imposed for the common benefit of the whole, this limitation of the tithe has been productive of still greater disadvantages. The clergy, whose incomes being chiefly derived from tithes levied from the poorest class of their parishioners, and who were almost all Catholics, were compelled, as well to save themselves from the odium and even hazard of personal interference, as from non-residence, to let their tithes, or to employ an agent, or tithe proctor, to collect them. It is easy to perceive what an immense field has thus been opened to oppression and injustice. The poverty of the cotters and other small farmers, render them in most cases unable to appeal to the law for redress against the unjust exactions of the tithe proctor. The consequence is, the prevalence of discontent, riot, and bloodshed. The levying of the tithe from potatoe crops led to the protracted and disgraceful outrages of the Whiteboys; and the banditti who, under the names of Steel-boys, Oakboys, Peep-of-day-boys, Carders, Thrashers, &c. have in succession desolated this unhappy country, have almost all had their origin in the same cause. It deserves to be mentioned, that, with the exception of the White-boys, whose depredations were confined to Munster, the others principally consisted of the manufacturing and Presbyterian population of Ulster. Nor is the case very different even at this day. Mr Wakefield, who has left no subject untouched which could throw light on the state of Ireland, and the accuracy of whose information has not been disputed, states distinctly that there is infinitely more difficulty experienced in collecting tithes among the Protestants of the North, than among the Catholics in the South.
We have already shown, that no farmer will lay out capital either in the improvement of old land, or in the bringing in of new, unless the price of raw produce be such as will afford him the common and average rate of profit on the capital so expended. But in Ireland, the occupiers of the small patches of ground into which the country is so very generally divided, are entirely destitute of capital. These patches are sought after because they afford the means of prolonging a miserable existence; and, owing to the excess of population, the competition for them is so great that it is but seldom the rent is limited to what the land is fairly worth. Thirty-five years ago it was no uncommon thing for a cotter to pay 71. per Irish acre
* Wakefield's Account of Ireland, vol. ii. p. 485.
for potatoe ground, and an additional 10s. or 12s. for tithe! *
The evil must have increased since; and it is rendered more grievous and intolerable, from the prevailing custom of taking a promissory note from the cotters in lieu of the tithe. When this promissory note becomes due, the poor cotter is generally unable to pay it; and his cow, as the readiest article, is laid hold of and exposed to public auction. Judge,' says Mr Wakefield, ' what must be the feelings of the half-famished cotter, surrounded by a wretched family clamorous for food, when he sees the tenth part of the produce of his potatoe garden exposed to public cant; or, if he has given a promissory note for a certain sum of money, to compensate for such tithe, when it becomes due, to hear the heart-rending cries of his offspring clinging round him, and lament. ing for the milk of which they are deprived, by the cow's being sold to discharge the debt. Such accounts are not the creation of fancy, the facts do exist, and are but too common in Ireland.-1,' continues Mr Wakefield, · have seen the cow, the favourite cow, driven away, accompanied by the sighs, the tears, and the imprecations of a whole family, who were paddling after, through wet and dirt, to take their last affectionate farewell of this their only friend and benefactor at the pound-gate. I have heard with emotions, which I can scarcely describe, deep curses repeated from village to village as the cavalcade proceeded. I have witnessed the group pass the domain walls of the opulent grazier, whose numerous herds were cropping the most luxuriant pastures, whilst he was secure from any demand for the tithe of their produce, looking on with the most unfeeling indifference. But let us reverse the picture, and behold the effects which are produced by oppression so insufferable as to extinguish every sentiment in the breast, but a desire of revenge. I have beheld, at night, houses in
flames, and for a moment supposed myself in a country exposed to · the ravages of war, and suffering from the incursions of an enemy. On the following morning, the most alarming accounts of Thrashers and White-boys have met my ear; of men who had assembled with weapons of destruction, for the purpose of compelling people to swear not to submit to the payment of their tithes. I have been informed of these oppressed people, in the ebullition of their rage, having murdered tithe-proctors and collectors, wreaking their vengeance with every mark of the most savage barbarity. Cases of this kind are not rare in Ireland; THEY TAKE PLACE DAILY; And were a history of such tragical events collected, they would form a work which could not be read without horror, and which would be the best comment upon the system.'t.
If any additional evidence were wanting of the pernicious and destructive effects which have resulted from the manner in
* Grattan's Speeches, Vol. I. p. 148.
which tithes are levied in Ireland, it might be found in the examinations of the leaders of the rebellion in the Houses of Lords and Commons. On Lord Clare's asking Mr Thomas Emmet, whether he thought Catholic Emancipation and Parliamentary Reform any objects with the common people, he answered, • As to Catholic Emancipation, I don't think it matters a fea
ther, or that the poor think of it; as to Parliamentary Re• form, I don't think the common people ever thought of it un6 til it was inculcated to them, that a reform in Parliament ( would cause a removal of those grievances which they actually
do feel.' When Mr Emmet was questioned by Mr Foster, in the House of Commons, whether the Catholics peculiarly objected to tithes; he answered, “They certainly have the best
right to complain; but I rather think they object more as teo nants than as Catholics-and in common with the rest of the • tenantry in the kingdom; and if any other way of paying even
a Protestant Establishment, which did not bear so sensibly 6 upon their industry, were to take place, I believe it would go
a great way to content them.' On Dr M‘Nevin's being asked whether Mr Grattan's motion relative to tithes was not a short cut towards putting down the Established Church ? he replied, “If the stability of the Established Church depends on
the payment of tithes, the Church stands on a weaker founda• tion than in civility I would have said of it; but of this I am sure--that, if tithes had been commuted according to Mr Grat-,
tan's plan, å very powerful engine would have been taken out of 6 our hands.'
Surely it is now high time to endeavour to devise some less partial and less oppressive means of providing for the support of the Establishment. For upwards of sixty years—from the era of the Whiteboys down to that of the Ribbonmen-Ireland has constantly, or with a few short intervals only excepted, been a prey to excesses arising from this cause. The gibbet, that ready and perpetual resource of weak and vindictive legislators, has groaned under the weight of criminals; and the country has been outraged and disgraced by the incessant recurrence of bloody and barbarous executions. But tranquillity has not been, and could not be restored, by such means. "If we expect to free Ireland from these sanguinary atrocities, we must attack the evil in its sources, and not content ourselves with lopping off the limbs it has vitiated. " The true principle with respect to your
peasantry is exoneration; and if I could not take the burden ç entirely off their back, I would make it as light as possible, ! -I would exempt the peasant's corn and garden from tithes ; $ if I could not make him rich, I would do the next thing in my
< power; I would consider his poverty as sacred, and protect « against an extortioner, the hallowed circle of his little boun• dary.'-Mr Grattan's Speech, 14th July, 1788.
As might have been expected, a variety of plans have been suggested for putting a stop to the gross and flagrant abuses of the tithe system, by raising an equivalent income for the clergy in lieu of tithe. To effect this most desirable object, it has been proposed to assess the landlords of the different counties in such a sum as would be sufficient to buy estates yielding a rent equal to the present value of the tithes, which should be exclusively applied for the support of the clergy. It would, however, be manifestly unjust to burden one class of society with the cost of a measure which would be so greatly beneficial to every other class. It is true, the increased facilities it would give to future improvements, would render the abolition of the tithe particularly advantageous to owners of estates; but the public in general would be equal gainers by the fall which it would occasion in the price of raw produce. Although, therefore, the landlords should be made to contribute a larger proportion than the others, the estates for the clergy ought certainly to be purchased by a tax levied from the country in general. But, besides the difficulty of raising so very large a sum as would be required for these purposes, this measure is liable to other objections. It would have the effect of adding prodigiously to the landed property in mortmain, and it would have a strong tendency to sink the character of the clergyman in that of the farmer. The clergyman ought not to be set a-bargaining and higgling with squires, farmers, and labourers. The less he comes into contact with them, in this way, so much the better. It is extremely difficult to reconcile the two characters of a good farmer and a zealous and attentive clergyman.
However, if there were no other method of getting rid of this odious and oppressive burden, the objections against commuting tithes for landed property, would certainly be entitled to very little weight. But we incline to think, that the proposal for a commutation by means of a poundage on rents, would, on the whole, be more eligible. Were this plan adopted, some such machinery as that by which the Income tax was collected, would suffice to levy the rate at a very small expense; and while the clergy would be secured in all their just rights, an end would be put to all disputes between the incumbent and his parishioners.
The same objection may perhaps be made to this plan that we urged against the former, that instead of distributing the burden of providing for the Church equally over the commu