Chesterfield's Policy

Justin McCarthy
Chapter VIII | Start of Chapter

Nothing was to be done, he must have seen, by any scheme of reform in legislation. The reform was needed for the benefit of the Catholic Irish, the vast majority of the population; and the Houses of Parliament in England and Ireland alike were closed against any who professed the Catholic faith. To become a favourite with the frequenters of Dublin Castle, Chesterfield had only to let things go on as they had been and not trouble himself and his friends by striving for the amelioration of evils he could not wholly abolish. An easy-going man might have quieted his conscience by telling himself that any attempt to bring about a better state of things would be utterly futile. Chesterfield seems to have been converted by what he saw, when he began his Viceregal task, into a genuine statesman and reformer. The two evils then eating their cancerous way into the administration of Ireland were the penal laws and the system of government enthroned in Dublin Castle. The rule of Dublin Castle was in its best attributes the rule of class ascendancy, and in its worst the rule of official corruption. Chesterfield saw that the state of things was almost as bad for the misgoverning as for the misgoverned, and that nothing but evil could come of it. But he also saw that there was nothing whatever to be done in the way of legislative reform. He quietly made up his mind to adopt a policy entirely his own, without consulting the Government about it. He would treat the penal code as a dead-letter. He could not abolish it, but he would never take or authorize any steps to put it into fresh action. He set himself to put a stop to the jobbery and intrigue which had grown to be a settled policy in the official departments of Dublin Castle. He established new schools wherever he could, and applied himself steadily to the encouragement of trade and manufacture. He enforced with strict and even stern hand the existing laws against crime and outrage; but he did his very best to prevent the State-made manufacture of crime and outrage unknown to the ordinary law.