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tempted as much as others to let their farms on the terms most profitable to them, the House of Commons in 1716 resolved unanimously to make an effort for a general change of system, and to reclaim both people and country by bringing back and stimulating agriculture. They passed a vote that covenants which prohibited the breaking soil with the plough were impolitic, and should have no binding force. They passed heads of a bill, which they recommended with the utmost earnestness to the consideration of the English Council, enjoining that for every hundred acres which any tenant held he should break
and cultivate five, and, as a further encouragement, that a trifling bounty should be granted by the Government on corn grown for exportation.
“And what did England answer? England which was so wisely anxious for the prosperity of the Protestant interest in Ireland: England which was struggling so pathetically to make the Irish peers and gentlemen understand the things that belonged to their peace? The bounty system might or might not have been well calculated to produce the effect which Ireland desired. It was the system which England herself practised with every industry which she wished to encourage, and it was not on economic grounds that the Privy Council rejected a Bill which they ought rather to have thrust of their own accord on Irish acceptance. The real motive was probably the same which had led to the suppression of the manufactures--the detestable opinion that to govern
Ireland conveniently Ireland must be kept weak. Although the corn consumed in Ireland had been for many years imported, the English farmers were haunted with a terror of being undersold in their own and foreign markets by a country where labour was cheap. A motive so iniquitous could not be confessed, but the objections which the Council were not ashamed to allege were scarcely less disgraceful to them. The English manufacturers having secured, as they supposed, the monopoly of Irish wool on their own terms, conceived that the whole soil of Ireland ought to be devoted to growing it. The merchants of Tiverton and Bideford had recently memorialised the Crown on the diminution of the number of fleeces which reached them from the Irish ports. They attributed the falling off to the contraband trade between Ireland and France, which shortened their supplies, enhanced the price, and gave the French weavers an advantage over them. Their conjecture, as will be hereafter shown, was perfectly just. The contraband trade, as had been foreseen when the restrictions were imposed, had become enormous. But the Commissioners of the Irish Revenue were unwilling to confess to carelessness. They pretended that the Irish farmers, forgetting their obligations to England, and thinking wickedly only of their own interests, were diminishing their stock of sheep, breaking up the soil, and growing wheat and barley. The allegation, unhappily, was utterly untrue. But the mere rumour of a rise of industry in Ireland created a
panic in the commercial circles of England. Although the change existed as yet only in desire, and the sheep-farming, with its attending miseries, was increasing rather than diminishing, Stanhope, Walpole, Sutherland, and the other advisers of the English Crown, met the overtures of the Irish Parliament in a spirit of settled hostility, and, with an infatuation which now appears insanity, determined to keep closed the one remaining avenue by which Ireland could have recovered a gleam of prosperity.
“ The heads of the Bill were carried in Ireland without a serious suspicion that it would be received unfavourably. A few scornful members dared to say that England would consent to nothing which would really benefit Ireland, but they were indignantly silenced by the friends of the Government. It was sent over by the Duke of Grafton, with the fullest expectation that it would be returned. He learnt first with great surprise that 'the Tillage Bill was meeting with difficulties.' It was a measure,' he said, which the gentlemen of the country had very much at heart, as the only way left them to improve their estates while they were under such hard restrictions in point of trade.' 'It would be unkind,' he urged, in a second and more pressing letter, 'to refuse Ireland anything not unreasonable in itself. He conceived the Corn Bill was not of that nature, and therefore earnestly requested his Majesty would be pleased to indulge them in it.'
“Stanhope forwarded in answer a report of the
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English Commissioners of Customs, which had the merit of partial candour. 'Corn,' they said, “is supposed to be at so low a rate in Ireland in comparison with England, that an encouragement to the exportation of it would prejudice the English trade.'
“The Lords Justices returned the conclusive rejoinder that for some years past Ireland had imported large quantities of corn from England, which would have been impossible had her own corn been cheaper. * They could not help representing,' they said, 'the concern they were under to find that verified which those all along foretold who obstructed the King's affairs, and which his friends had constantly denied, that all the marks they had given of duty and affection would not procure one bill for the benefit of the nation.
“ The fact of the importation of corn from England could not be evaded ; but the commercial leaders were possessed with a terror of Irish rivalry which could not be exorcised. The bill was at last transmitted, but a clause had been slipped in empowering the Council to suspend the premiums at their pleasure ; and the House of Commons in disgust refused to take back a measure which had been mutilated into a mockery.”
To take another instance, illustrative of the same
* “English in Ireland,', vol. i., 441–446. The subsequent history of this Bill as related by Mr. Froude is interesting. It became law in 1727, but was practically ineffective. See Lecky's “ Eighteenth Century,” ii., 248.
system, which was in full operation sixty years later. The heads of a bill were introduced in 1771 to prevent corn from being wasted in making whisky, and to put some restraint on the vice of drunkenness, which was increasing. This bill was warmly recommended to the English Privy Council by Townshend, the LordLieutenant of the day, who said, "the whisky shops were ruining the peasantry and the workmen. There was an earnest and general desire to limit them. It will be a loss to the revenue, but it is a very popular bill, and will give general content and satisfaction throughout the kingdom.”* “The Whisky Bill," says Mr. Froude, “was rejected because the Treasury could not spare a few thousand pounds which were levied upon drunkenness.” †
It must also be borne in mind that although the English Parliament could, and, in fact, did, place prohibitory duties on Irish goods imported into England, it was quite impossible for the Irish Parliament to exercise the same power. Bills of such a nature would, of course, never obtain the sanction of the English Privy Council, to whom they must have been submitted.
The difference between the duties on the same goods when imported from England into Ireland, and from Ireland into England, were in some cases striking. “In Ireland,” says Mr. Parsons, speaking in the Irish Parliament in 1784, "no more than 6d. a yard was
English in Ireland,” vol. ii., 113, 114. + “English in Ireland,” vol. ii., 114.