Paupers and the Poor Law - The Last Conquest of Ireland (Perhaps)

John Mitchel
Author’s Edition (undated)

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to engender a dependent and pauper spirit, and to free England from all anxiety about "Repeal." A landless, hungry pauper cannot afford to think of the honour of his country, and cares nothing about a national flag.

I may here mention that it was the English Government that invented paupers in Ireland, when they imposed on us their Poor Law. Before that time there had been plenty of poor men in Ireland, but "no able-bodied paupers." It is one of the very few English institutions in which they have made us full participants.

How powerfully the whole of this system and procedure contributed to accomplish the great end of uprooting the people from the soil, can be readily understood. The exhibition and profession of public "relief" for the destitute stifled compunction in the landlords; and agents, bailiffs, and police swept whole districts with the besom of destruction.

Another act had been done by Sir Robert Peel's Ministry, just before retiring, with a view of breaking up the Repeal Association. This was the imprisonment of Mr Smith O'Brien several weeks in the cellar of the House of Commons. It grievously irritated the enemy that O'Connell, O'Brien, and the Repeal members still continued to absent themselves from Parliament. The House of Commons had tried various methods of persuading or coercing them to London. Mr Hume had written them a friendly letter, imploring them to come over to their legislative duties, and he would aid them in obtaining justice for Ireland. A "call of the House" was proposed; but they declared beforehand that if there were a call of the House they would not obey it, and the Sergeant-at-Arms must come to Ireland for them;—he would find them in Conciliation Hall. They were nominated on English Railroad Committees, and the proper officer had intimated to them the fact. They replied that they were attending to more important business. Now, when they went over to oppose the Coercion Bill, it was understood that this was to be their sole errand, and they were not to engage themselves in the ordinary details of legislation. But they were not long in London before the opportunity was seized to place their names on Railway Committees. O'Connell and his son both obeyed the call. O'Brien, of course, refused, and was imprisoned in the cellar for "contempt." London and all England were highly pleased and entertained: Punch was brilliant upon the great "Brian Boru" in a cellar; and Mr O'Brien was usually afterwards termed,—with that fine sarcasm so characteristic of English genius,—the "martyr of the cellar."

Instantly arose dissension in the Repeal Association. To ...continue reading »

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