There is no country in the civilised world with such a melancholy history as Ireland. From the time when she first enters as a tangible factor into English history until the closing years of the eighteenth century the prevailing note is one of gloom. The one bright spot in the darkness is the brief period of legislative independence. Then Ireland suddenly becomes a nation; then she has statesmen, and heroes, and patriots; then for the first time there seems to be a chance of Roman Catholics and Protestants sinking their differences and becoming one in their love of Ireland and their love of liberty. But it was not to be. Nothing can be more sad than to study the dark and terrible events, the intrigues and deceits, the religious hatreds deliberately stirred up, the savage ferocity of both races and both religionsall the disastrous sequence of events that led almost inevitably to the Legislative Union.
And, since the Union, has the condition of Ireland become more hopeful? Have the links which bind her to Great Britain become stronger? Has the national character improved? Unfortunately, one at least of these questions
p.2must be answered in the negative. The Union has proved but a union of legislaturesnot one of hearts, nor even one of interests. It is often asked why this should be so; but, like many things in history, it is capable of a simple explanation, and is the result of the operation of definite causes. The chief point to be noticed is that the Union was carried against the wishes of the majority of the Irish people. But even this great weakness of the Union might have been remedied, and the Union itself made acceptable to the bulk of the people, if Catholic emancipation had been immediately granted. The British Ministry either could not or would not fulfil the virtual promise they had made, and after the Union, as before, Ireland remained wretched and disaffected. When Catholic emancipation at last came it came too late; the gift had lost its grace, and was powerless to remove the terrible bitterness that religious persecution had caused.
It is the standing tragedy of Irish history that England has always made her concessions too late, and not until she has been forced to do so. It was a misfortune for both countries that Ireland continued to be treated as a dependency after the Union. The Church of the small minority remained the Established Church, all the remedies called for by the economic miseries of the country were refused, practical justice was denied, and the people were embittered and alienated by severe coercion Acts. What wonder then that the Union, instead of becoming more acceptable to the people, came to be more and more hated by them?
It is, of course, true that all this is now over. Since 1870, as Irishmen admit, Great Britain has, generally speaking, tried to do her best. She has acted towards Ireland according to her lights, and she has effected many and great improvements. And yet the result has not been to draw Ireland more closely to England. It may be that sufficient time has not elapsed to soften bitter resentments; it may be that from every point of view the Union was a
p.3mistake. It was certainly carried at the wrong time and by very questionable methods. It has not proved advantageous to Ireland; for it has destroyed the patriotism of the upper classes, alienated them from the people, and thrown the country into the hands of political agitators and demagogues. And at the same time it has not been beneficial to Great Britain. Whether the repeal of the Act of Union at the present day would be even less beneficial it is impossible to say. Every year that has elapsed since the Union has made its repeal more difficult, and yet, in the opinion of some, more inevitable.
Economically speaking, the interests of England and Ireland have never been further apart than at the present time. It is this divergence of economic interests which now keeps the two countries in many ways so separate. The sentiment of Irish nationality is no doubt strong, and the temperament of the people is such that an Irish farmer or peasant will willingly give up material interests for the sake of political ideals. Still, it is poverty that is at the root of the present troubles, the real reason why political agitation is so successful. The absence of strong material bonds between England and Ireland is the reason why Ireland, in spite of the confident prophecies of the supporters of the Union, has not greatly prospered from her closer connection with Great Britain. At first sight, indeed, it might appear that the economic condition of the Irish people has not substantially improved during the last hundred years. The great provision trade of the eighteenth century has decayed, and only quite recently has there arisen a prospect of its revival. Free Trade, which gave cheap bread to English artisans, and an enormous impetus to the commercial prosperity of the country, only brought ruin to Irish industries and agriculture. Irish manufacturing industry still concentrates itself in the north, hardly spreading beyond certain districts; emigration has been draining Ireland of her population for more than half a century; the class of absentees is
p.4far larger than it was before the Union. The great commercial expansion of the nineteenth century has conferred little benefit on Ireland; it has merely resulted in an increase of taxation to support a trade in which she has little share. And yet it is untrue to say that Ireland, materially speaking, has gone back or has even stood still during the last century. Her progress has indeed been slow, slower than in any other civilised country in Europe. But there has been some rise in the standard of comfort of all classes of the community. Just now there is something of an industrial revival taking place, while the co-operative movement is conferring great benefits on Irish agriculture. It is only necessary to go to Ireland to-day and contrast the condition of the people with that which Arthur Young describes in his "Tour" in 1776, in order to realise that there are elements of prosperity in the country.
The object of the present sketch is to give a plain historical account of the commercial and financial relations between England and Ireland from the period of the Restoration; to show how these relations have powerfully reacted on the history of the two countries and on their political life; to explain how the commercial policy of England affected the economic condition of Ireland, and, by throwing the mass of the people on the land, aggravated the later agrarian troubles; to set forth how this same commercial policy, combined with the Penal Laws, caused a grievous deterioration of the national character, to which even the present poverty and backwardness of Ireland may be traced. Few attempts have been made to estimate at all accurately the effect of the restrictions placed by England on Irish trade and commerce. From a historical point of view such an estimate is important. From the point of view of the practical man it may prove to be of even great importance; for the effects of those commercial restrictions are still with us, and may be seen partly in the actual condition of the
p.5people, partly in their heritage of hatred to the law, and suspicion of England.
An investigation of the early financial relations between England and Ireland will reveal the liberality of the latter country towards the needs of the Empire, while it sets forth in its full light the extraordinary corruption practised by the Government in Ireland. Since the Union the financial relations of the two countries have from time to time created much discussion. There has been some confusion of thought on the subject, owing to the fact that the problem may be considered from two points of view. The taxation of Ireland may be regarded as a whole; that is to say, Ireland may be taken as a geographical entity, and the proportion of taxation borne by her contrasted with that borne by Great Britain. Or the question may be considered as one of individuals and classes rather than of countries, and the amount of taxes paid by the individual Irishman may be compared with those paid by the individual Englishman. Then the Financial Relations Commission of 189496 regarded Ireland as a geographical entity, and, owing to the circumstances under which it was appointed, it was quite justified in doing so. At the same time, it ought to be remembered that all attempts to estimate the income of Great Britain and Ireland and their relative taxable capacities must necessarily be only approximate. From various causes, which will be noticed later, the statistical data on which discussions as to the over-taxation of Ireland are based are often too speculative to admit of being used as a basis for conclusive agreement. Eventually, indeed, the whole question must spread itself over a much wider field, and one practically left untouched by the Commission that of the incidence of taxation as between the various districts and the various classes of a community. Ireland is only one example, although one of the most important, of the results of our present system of taxation.
The Restoration is the period taken for the commencement of this sketch, for with it begins a new phase of English commercial policy. Previous to the Restoration there had been little commercial jealousy felt towards Ireland. All the laws with regard to trade treated Ireland precisely the same as England. Until the Cattle and Navigation Acts of 1663 there was no Act on the Statute Roll for laying a single restraint on the trade and manufactures of Ireland, or for imposing any duty on the manufactured products of Ireland when imported into England.
The commercial Statutes of Edward III. with regard to the importation of woollen cloth1 and of Gascony wines,2 and in respect of the regulation of the staples,3 placed Ireland on exactly the same footing as England. Irish merchants were allowed to bring their merchandise to the staple in England without paying any but the Irish Customs,4 while all merchants, whether aliens or denizens, were allowed to import goods of all kinds into Ireland without any increase of dues.5
The same principle runs through the commercial Statutes of subsequent reigns. In the fifth year of Richard II. the first attempt towards a Navigation Act was made.6 The King's subjects were forbidden to carry forth or bring into the realm any merchandises except in ships of the King's allegiance. This definition, of course, included Irish ships.
From this time until the reign of Edward IV. no English Statute relating to trade or commerce mentions Ireland, but, as nothing is ever said to the contrary, we may conclude that she was treated in all ways similarly to England. The commercial treaty, however, made by
p.7England with the Duke of Brittany included Ireland, woollen cloths being particularly mentioned, and in a later treaty, made between Henry VII. and the Netherlands, Ireland is mentioned by name.7 In the reign of Edward IV. we again come across a commercial Statute which includes Ireland.8 It declares that "all wares and chaffres made and wrought in the land of Ireland and Wales may be bought and sold in this realm of England as they were wont before the making of this Statute," in spite of the complaints made by English artisans that they were being impoverished by reason of divers commodities and wares being brought into England ready wrought.
In later reigns this policy of treating Ireland similarly to England in all matters of industry and commerce was continued. The Navigation Acts of Henry VII. made no attempt to differentiate between English and Irish ships. In the reign of Elizabeth a Statute was passed forbidding live rams, lambs, and sheep to be carried out of England, Wales, or Ireland,9 while another Statute which forbade the stretching of woollen cloths included Ireland in the prohibition.10 In the reign of James I. there is an important Statute which shows that the Irish were allowed to trade freely to foreign countries.11 The Statute abolishes the charters given to some English merchants to trade to Spain and Portugal, and refuses to give them a charter to trade to France, on the ground that if it were given the people of England would not be able to trade freely with foreign countries like the people of Ireland and Scotland. In the reign of Charles II. several English Statutes gave encouragement to the Irish woollen manufacture,12
p.8while the first Navigation Act of the same reign drew no distinction between English and Irish ships.13 It was the great Navigation Act of 166314 that began the restrictive policy towards Irish industry and commerce, a policy which held its own until the Irish volunteer movement of 1779 in favour of free trade.
Before the middle of the seventeenth century Ireland was indeed too backward a country to inspire a feeling of jealousy. Hatred there was on the part of England, but it was a contemptuous hatred. Until the reign of Charles I. it never entered into the mind of an Englishman that Ireland could in any way rival his own country. But Charles's reign opened a new phase of Irish history. It was then that Englishmen first learned to fear Ireland, and that the seed was sown of that idea which was to bear fruit laterthe idea that Ireland must be kept weak and distracted, that she must not be allowed to grow wealthy or become united, lest she should be used by the Crown as an instrument of Royal aggrandisement. But from the beginning of the Civil Wars until after the Restoration, Ireland had plainly no chance of becoming either rich or united. Wars, massacres, famine, and pestilence, as well as the policy of Cromwell in depopulating the country of the Catholics, had reduced the numbers of the people by one third. The whole trade and manufactures of Ireland had been destroyed. The linen industry which had been encouraged by Strafford had decayed; the cattle and live stock in the country was not sufficient to supply the wants of the people. But after the peace Ireland soon improved rapidly, and England began in consequence to look with jealous eyes upon her sister country.
It must be remembered that the mercantile system did not attain its full development in Europe until the latter half of the seventeenth century. One of the tendencies of this system was an undue exaltation of foreign trade over domestic, and of manufacturing industry over agricultural.
In consequence the exports of a country were held to be an index of its prosperity, and great importance was attached to the importation of raw materials and the exportation of manufactured goods. Now, just at the time when these beliefs were everywhere forming in men's minds, every powerful European country was establishing colonies. Portugal, Spain, France, Holland, all had the start of England, and it was only in the period subsequent to the Restoration that English colonisation began in the New World on anything like a large scale, and that Ireland and Scotland came to be looked upon in the same light as the new possessions in America. Once colonies existed there had to be some sort of theory as to the economic relations which should prevail between them and the Mother Country. The theory which was adopted more or less by every European country was the absolute subserviency of the colonies to the mother countries. They were simply looked upon as estates to be worked for the advantage of their possessors, and statesmen regarded the colonial trade as a means of enlarging the public revenue. The object of the mercantilists was to make the Mother Country powerful, and the best means to this end was to make her wealthy through commerce and industry. The establishment of colonies had opened a great and new field for the enlargement of commerce, and each nation working for its own power competed with every other in the economic as well as in the political field. The wars of the eighteenth century were the result of this struggle for predominance in trade and industry. In every country the Government put itself at the head of the new national economic interest. Industry had to be regulated in order to secure foreign markets by goodness and cheapness of wares. High import duties were imposed, no longer for revenue purposes, but in the interests of national production. Every nation did its best to exclude foreign competition in the home market, and to procure raw materials from abroad to work into
p.10manufactured goods at home. The position of colonies and dependencies under such a system was self-evident. They must not trade with foreign countries, but only with the Mother Country. They must not supply her with manufactured goods, but only with precious metals and raw products. In so far indeed as the trade and industry of the colonies did not interfere with that of the Mother Country, it was to be encouraged as contributing to the general wealth; but directly the interests of the colonies conflicted with those of the Mother Country they must be put on one side. In general these interests did conflict, and the colonies suffered.
If we look at the mercantile system from the point of view of the chief European countries, we must acknowledge that it led them on the whole into the path of general economic development. It is plain that the efforts of the State to further trade and industry were attended with some success, although it is impossible to measure their exact effects. And at the same time the current doctrine was the product of the practical activities of the age, and Governments and people adopted those theoretic tendencies which we know as mercantilism by force of contemporary circumstances.
Later on, when the mercantile system had done its work, instead of being discarded as useless, it was retained with some of its main features distorted, and by that time capable of working great harm. The spirit of trade monopoly became more intense, business jealousies were stronger than ever, while the economic development attained by the colonies made them more and more unwilling to remain in their position of commercial subordination. In England especially the whole mercantile system was strained to breaking point, and the attainment of independence by the American colonies, together with the effect of the American War upon Ireland, led to a change in British commercial policy and the gradual growth of the idea of free trade.
p.11Now, it was Ireland that suffered most of all from the mercantile policy of England. As far as actual commercial restriction went, America and Scotland suffered a good deal; but their trade and industry were not hampered and discouraged to the same extent as those of Ireland. This arose from the peculiar jealousy felt towards Ireland by England owing to the fact that the former was a Roman Catholic country. But this feeling of jealousy was caused by political rather than religious motives. England hated Roman Catholicism because it seemed to be fraught with danger to the State. There was always a fear haunting the English legislature that Ireland might support the Pretender, or might enable the King to override the Constitution. This general motive for interfering with Irish trade and industry was reinforced by special and more direct reasons; while Ireland's peculiar situation, geographical, industrial, and political, made her liable to be greatly affected by English commercial policy. Things were different in Scotland and the American colonies. Scotland had an independent Parliament which made itself so troublesome that England was glad to effect the union, and so her commercial restrictions were short lived. America had huge internal resources which no amount of restrictive Statutes could altogether counteract, while the fact that her economic development mainly proceeded on lines different from those along which the Mother Country would naturally develop shielded her to some extent from the jealous fears of English traders. In any case the American colonies were too distant from the Mother Country for their trade to be much injured; and, as a matter of fact, it is doubtful whether they suffered to any considerable extent at the hands of England. But in Ireland matters were otherwise. The unfortunate island lay near to the English coast, and her industrial resources were at this time15 very similar to those of England. Nearly
p.12every occupation which could be successfully pursued in Ireland seemed to be one also suited to England, and therefore one in which the English Government and people would brook no competition. Just because Ireland's economic resources were so similar to those of England, the theories and ideas of the time prevented her from developing them. At the same time, the weakness of her Parliament hindered her from pursuing a policy of retaliation by laying heavy duties on the importation of English goods. The Irish Parliament had no means of making itself troublesome like the Scotch, for it had become practically dependent on England. Although it was allowed to originate heads of Bills, all such Bills had to go up to the English Privy Council, and if the Privy Council altered them, as it generally did, the Irish Parliament had either to accept the alteration or reject the measures altogether. The strength of the Irish legislature was also greatly weakened by the exclusion of the Catholics from the franchise. It was an alien rule in the midst of an alien population, for it consisted only of representatives of the ruling caste. At the same time, the English Parliament itself did not scruple to pass laws affecting Ireland, although the legality of such laws was doubtful. For more than a century after the Restoration Ireland was like clay in the hands of the potter. It was not until a new national spirit rose up, affecting all sections and classes of the population, that she took her destinies into her own hands and asserted her position as a distinct kingdom. Such were the general and special causes which made Ireland feel keenly the practical results of the commercial ideas of the age. But the consequent poverty and backwardness of the country were intensified by religious persecution. The penal laws sunk the mass of the people in a depth of poverty and ignorance scarcely ever surpassed in history and drove their natural leaders into exile. Indeed, the whole policy of England, whether political, commercial, or religious, aimed at keeping Ireland poor,
p.13divided, and humiliated. Little wonder indeed that she suffered in a way America and Scotland never did. It is, of course, impossible to judge the conduct of England towards Ireland from a modern standpoint; it can only be judged in the light of the prevailing theories and ideas of the time. The age was intensely materialistic; it was a time of the crudest nationalism, and one in which everything was done in the interests of classes and individuals; it was a period when religious toleration was still regarded as impracticable. In placing restrictions on Irish commerce and trade, England was only following the example of every European country that possessed dependencies; and in spite of constitutional theories, Ireland was in practice merely an English dependency. Again, in persecuting the Irish Catholics, England was but acting according to the religious ideas of the time; and it is only fair to add that, unlike France and Spain, she had peculiar political reasons for her conduct. All this may be acknowledged, but the fact remains that in the case of Ireland everything was exaggerated. Irish trade and industry were even discouraged, no doubt from political motives, in the interests of Scotland and the American colonies. In fact, whenever the cake was not large enough to go round, it was always Ireland that had first to go without a slice. And as regards religious persecution, it would be difficult to find in the annals of the religious history of Europe as demoralising a code of laws as the Irish penal code. On the Continent persecution may have been more ferocious: but in Ireland, where the motive for persecution was political rather than religious, the penal laws were more subtly degrading and more demoralising to the character of a people than the bloodthirsty enactments in France or Spain against the Protestants. For over a century the Irish people were ground down by laws which Edmund Burke described as "a machine of wise and elaborate contrivance, and as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people and the debasement in
p.14them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man."16
No account of the commercial relations between England and Ireland would be complete unless account were taken at the same time of this penal code. The laws aimed at the coercion of an entire nation, and so could never be strictly enforced; but their prosecution was sufficiently severe to bring into prominence some bad qualities of the Irish character. They also discouraged thrift and industry, and by driving the Catholic gentry from the country, set a gulf between peasants and landlords and checked the development of a national spirit. English writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were continually noting the richness of the material resources of Ireland, her beautiful harbours, the multitude of her lakes and rivers, the extraordinary fertility of her soil.17 What is more surprising to the modern Englishman, they also mention the industry of her people and their capacity for work, their great bodily strength and hardiness, their intelligence and love of knowledge.18 That the rich resources of Ireland, both in her land and in the characteristics of her people, have produced little fruit, and have merely resulted in the Ireland of the present day, is due to causes long at work, the effects of which time alone may soften. Indeed, if we consider that it is only within the last thirty years that the economic grievances of Ireland have begun to be redressed and that any genuine effort has been made to improve the condition of the people and to develop the national resources, we can hardly expect
p.15that things should yet be much better than they are. But even in the dreary annals of the Irish people during the nineteenth century a certain progress can be traced. At the present day there are signs that for Ireland, economically speaking, the worst is over, and that in the future she may have a real chance of progressing, however slowly, in the path of general economic development.