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It is very frequently said, that the evils with which Ireland is unquestionably afflicted, have arisen from the vicious policy of her more powerful neighbour. This opinion, first advanced by men who endeavoured to divert the attention of the public from the true causes of our distress, has gradually made its way into better company. If, indeed, its merits were sufficiently examined, by comparing the state of the two countries, and by computing the years of their political connection, its truth would cover the ignominy of its origin, and Irishmen of all parties would have reason to complain. Many circumstances, however, are to be taken into the account; which people of a warm and generous temperament, who have read of much calamity, witnessed much suffering, and, perhaps, in their own persons, experienced some harsh disability, are liable to overlook. The following pages will not have been written in vain, should they induce any such to consider these few but important questions: what portion of our misfortunes is imputable to the crown or parliament of England; whether the local English government introduced new grievances, or merely omitted to remove old abuses; whether this omission arose from culpable neglect, or, on the other hand, from necessity; from principled forbearance, and from respect, however erroneous, for the supposed rights of others.
Without proceeding minutely into these inquiries, it will be enough, in this place, to state one general proposition ; that the great source of Irish misery has been, not the pouer of England, but its want of power. From the first connection between the islands, to their legislative union, two local oligarchies, tiercely opposed to each other, but waging emulous hostility against the public welfare, fill a large space in our melancholy annals. Liberty and good order were equally the objects of their dislike: they intercepted from the sovereign, the allegiance of his subjects; and from the people, the protecting care of their prince, and the blessing of impartial laws. Thus, the country was exposed to a long succession of mistortunes, which its nominal monarchi, the remote and unheeded colleague of domestic tyrants, might deplore, but was unable to prevent or to remedy: Absenteeism, the freehold system, and the abolition of our colonial legislature, have greatly reduced the power of the more ancient of these factions, the landed aristocracy :-a brief account of it, will be no unsuitable introduction to the history of its triumphant rival.
There is good reason to believe, that, in the sixth,
That is, so far as it was a faction: it has, indeed, been reduced considerably below its constitutional level.
seventh, and eighth centuries, the Irish were pos. sessed of a respectable share of those benefits, which result from industry, laws, and literature; with perhaps as much tranquillity, public and private, as was enjoyed by Greece at its most brilliant period. But, amidst the rapine and massacre of the three following ages, their spirit and their imperfect civilization sunk together, beneath the ferocity of the northern Corsairs. The degenerate race which now appeared, inherited the mingled vices of their fathers and their enemies: the grossness and turbulence, without the generosity, of barbarians; the corruptions, without the arts, of more cultivated life. At the date of the arrival of the first English adventurers, every chieftain, from the dynast of a province, to the tiny potentate of a realm which might be enclosed within a modern barony, was a king. The annual claim of his superior lord was settled, according to circumstances, by a tribute or a battle ; but, within his own territory, he exercised all the powers of barbarous royalty. By a custom which seems to have once extended from the Himalaya mountains to the Atlantic, he was sole proprietor of all the land in his sept: the clansmen held their portions during the pleasure of their chief; and there were some national usages which added to the uncertainty of this precarious tenure. All dignities were elective : vacancies were made, and elections carried, most frequently by the sword; so that every change of masters, in every tribe, threatened, if it did not cause, a new partition of lands. No special
claims to inheritance were derived from primogeniture, legitimacy, or kindred. Upon the death or emigration of a vassal, his holding reverted to the common stock: on the other hand, as youths grew to maturity, or as strangers became naturalized, the older occupants contracted their bounds, to make room for the new settlers. These eternal fluctuations had their full effect upon the face of the country, and the character of the people ; there was no motive to industry, no spirit, except for turbulent adventure ; cultivation was limited to the demands of nature and the landlord, and the fertility of the soil was abused by a wretched system of husbandry.* A distinction was acknowledged between a slave and a freeman ; but it seems to have denoted no other difference than this, that the freeman had the right of chusing his tribe: in chusing that, he chose his master. Excluded from landed property by a selfish despotism, and from commercial wealth by the circumstances of a country, which had no money, no trade, and few manufactures, all who could not boast of princely blood, were condemned
* It was one of the articles of impeachment brought in 1613 against the lord-deputy Chichester, that his officers levied a fine on the Irish, for ploughing with horses by the tail. (See Desiderata Curiosa Hibernica, vol. i.) In 1648, it was one of the articles of peace with the duke of Ormond, that two acts lately passed in this kingdom, the one prohibiting the ploughing with horses by the tail, and the other prohibiting the burning of oats in the straw, be repealed. Such was Irish patriotism, in the seventeenth century; making a grievance of every measure, that was calculated to promote comfort and civilization, or to raise the character of the people : such it is in the nineteenth.