Repeal of the Corn Laws - The Last Conquest of Ireland (Perhaps)

John Mitchel
Author’s Edition (undated)

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by the Administration were—first, a Coercion Bill for Ireland; and, second, Repeal of the Corn Laws. This Repeal of the duties on foreign corn had long been demanded by the manufacturing and trading interests of England, and had been steadily opposed by the great landed proprietors. Sir Robert Peel, as a Conservative statesman, had always hitherto vigorously opposed the measure; but early in this Parliament he suddenly announced himself a convert to free-trade in corn; and even used the pretext of the famine in Ireland to justify himself and carry his measure. He further proposed to abolish the duties on foreign beef, and mutton, and bacon. Shall we exclude any kind of food from our ports, he said, while the Irish are starving?

That is to say, the Premier proposed to cheapen those products which England bought, and which Ireland had to sell. Ireland imported no corn or beef; she exported those commodities. Hitherto she had an advantage over American and other corn-growers in the English market, because there was a duty on foreign, but not on Irish provisions. Henceforth the agricultural produce of all the world was to be admitted on the same terms—duty-free; and precisely to the extent that this would cheapen provisions to the English consumer, it would impoverish the Irish producer. The great mass of the Irish people were almost unacquainted with the taste of bread and meat; they raised those articles, not to eat, but to sell and pay their rents with. Yet many of the Irish people, stupefied by the desolation they saw around them, had cried out for "opening the ports," instead of closing them. The Irish ports were open enough; much too open; and an Irish Parliament, if there had been one, would instantly have closed them in this emergency.

In looking over the melancholy records of those famine years, I find that usually the right view was seized, and the right word said, by William Smith O'Brien; and as he was always moderate in expression—never saying anything that he could not more than substantiate—I am glad to perceive that he fully concurs in this view of Peel's measure. He said, in the Repeal Association:—

"With respect to the proposal before us, I have to remark that it professes to abrogate all protection. It is, in my opinion, a proposal manifestly framed with a view to English rather than Irish interests. About two-thirds of the population of England (that, I believe, is the proportion) are dependent on manufactures and commerce, directly or indirectly. In this country about nine-tenths of the population are dependent on agriculture, directly or indirectly. It is clearly the object ...continue reading »

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