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A Philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland [...] (Author: Thomas Campbell)

Letter 35


That a thorough incorporation of Britain and Ireland, under one legislature, with a perfect community of privileges, would be mutually advantageous, appears to me an intuitive, rather than a demonstrative, truth: therefore, without entering into any deep detail, which would only perplex the subject, I shall enumerate a few of the many advantages that might be derived from such a union.

The British empire in Europe being thus embodied, and, as it were, knit together by affection and interest, would become a more firm, vigorous, and weighty counterpoise, for its extensive and united dominions in America. An accession of 17,000,000 of acres, fourteen of which in fertility are not inferior to England, and in extent equal to Scotland41, would be a new field for the extension of that tillage, which we complain


is declining at home; and of course would become a nursery for that class of men which is failing in England. For if there be any truth in political arithmetic, our people have decreased near a million and a half since the year 1690, notwithstanding the increase of London, Norwich, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, and other great towns; the loss having fallen principally on the inhabitants of cottages. But however this fact may be disposed of, certain it is, we cannot have too many people at home; and, if Ireland were fully peopled, we need at no time have recourse to foreign mercenaries.

The return of houses in Ireland for the year 1754, was 395,439, and for the year 1766, it was 424,046; supposing therefore the numbers to have increased at the same rate in the nine succeeding, that they did in the twelve preceding years, the number of houses at this day would be 445,501. Which, allowing five to a family, will make the number of souls in Ireland 2,227,505. But as the return of houses by hearth-collectors is rather under than above the truth, and as there are many families in every


parish of this poor country, who are by law excused from that tax, and therefore probably not returned42, the number of souls in Ireland, upon a moderate estimate, will be 2,500,000.

As no part of the kingdom, except some northern counties, is fully peopled, and as the fruitful parts of the south might, if properly cultivated, easily support five times as many as now live there, without diminishing the numbers of sheep and bullocks, it is manifest, that the whole island might not only supply our deficiency of 1,500,000, but might even support double its present numbers. The island of Java is less than Great Britain, yet it is said to contain 32,000,000 of inhabitants.

England would gain by encouraging tillage in Ireland; for that would enable her to cheapen her fabrics at foreign markets. If we would keep down the exorbitant price of provisions, instead of prohibiting the exportation of corn from this country, we


should permit it, not only to all places, but at all times, except when the value exceeds a given standard. Would not the importation of grain from Ireland be more easy and expeditious than from America?

England would gain, immediately, by suffering Ireland to indrap her own wool; for she would recover two parts of that share of woollen trade she has lost abroad, by permitting this kingdom to gain the other third; as I think has been already proved in my letter from Cork. And she would gain, mediately, by weakening those competitors, who are at present beating her out of the market, both in the Levant and Portugal. If the English and the Irish were the only nations who could carry on any considerable woollen manufacture, it might perhaps be expedient in the former to tie up the hands of the latter. But if it cannot be confined to English territories, and if we are to be undersold, would it not be more politick to resign the market to the Irish than to the French? The wealth of Ireland is as much ours, as that of Cornwal or Northumberland.


England would gain by the taxation of Ireland, which in time would be able to bear a part of the burden, proportioned to her extent. At present, indeed, she is able to bear but a small share; being, as is said, taxed more heavily already, in proportion to her ability, than England. For it must be considered, that Irish absentees, who enjoy the most valuable landed properties in the kingdom, contribute not a shilling to the support of that government which protects them. An attempt was made a few years ago, to lay some very light tax upon them, but this was defeated by the cabals of faction. A land tax, if it were raised as a substitute for others, which oppress the poor, would be a desirable thing in this country, as it would oblige the absentee to pay something. If on the other hand it should fall ultimately on the tenant, it would serve only to fill up the measure of oppression.

A tax upon land is of all others the most equal; for if fairly laid, the rich pay it, and it does not fall, as most others do, upon the industry of the poor; an acre when cultivated, not paying more than the same


in the state of nature. I pretend not to define either the mode or measure of taxation. But if a union of the two kingdoms should at any time take place, the necessity of taxing this country lightly at first will be evident; little or no advantage could be reaped from it in the beginning. The increase of taxation should be gradual, and keep a cautious pace with the augmentation of trade; of which the legislature, for the time being, will be best able to judge.

England need not be afraid that any encouragement given to Ireland would make a sudden alteration; enthralled by evil habits, perfect freedom would not at once emancipate her. Manners have a greater influence than laws. It would require much time, and a fostering hand to rear industry, though planted ever so carefully. Before it would bear the rich fruits of arts and commerce, a long series of years would pass away. You have seen a horse who has been thrown, and bound to have some operation performed on him, yet continuing to lie still, after being loosed from all his cords. Just so would it be with Ireland.


A considerable portion of time would elapse, before she would begin to exert the powers she possessed. ‘England would be profited, says Decker, by opening the trade of Ireland. Which country being too poor to give it the extent it is capable of, it must therefore be carried on, for years to come, by English stocks. Consequently, a great part of the profits of it must fall into the hands of the English merchant.’

The vintage may grow in Ireland, but, if not pressed there, it will certainly be drank in England. The seat of empire will ever be surrounded by the vain, the affluent, the ambitious, and all who affect distinction. But so much must still remain, as to put the lower classes of the people almost above the envy of the present race of scare crows, who guard the bullocks and the sheep, in the enjoyment of these fertile plains.

Where then would be the harm, if it could be so managed, that in another age, Ireland could be weaned from that habitual idleness we so much and so unjustly blame? Could we be injured, if instead of indigent and insurgent, she should become opulent and civilized? Would it not be profitable


to turn as many hands as possible to industry? Do we not universally complain of want of labourers and manufacturers? Would not the population of Ireland supply these? Is England a country of such enormous size, that it would be more weakened by an extension of territory at home than abroad? If the resources of England could be increased, in the same proportion with this enlargement of her boundaries, would it not more than compensate for the defection of America, which now seems not more removed in distance, than estranged in affection from the parent country?43

And even granting that a reconciliation between Great Britain and America should take place, does not every encouragement given to the latter, tend to the immediate depopulation, and consequent ruin of these nations? Place but America upon the footing it was a few years ago, and they will migrate thither in thousands, and ten thousands, from both these islands.

We must at length see that it is not our wisdom to aggrandise America, at the expence of more domestic interests. By


granting a bounty upon American hemp, we effectually prohibited the importation of it from Ireland, and put a stop to the growth of that necessary article, in a country so generally fit for it. By relaxing the navigation laws of Ireland upon non-enumerated44 commodities, we at once put 150,000 l. year into the pockets of the Americans; but by compelling the Irish to land their sugars, and other numerated articles in England, we teach them to smuggle, and carry on a clandestine trade with the French. We must blame ourselves, that an extent of so fine a country is not of more advantage to us. Private interests and public jealousies, are the grand obstacles to its prosperity and our own greatness.

Instead then of cramping, we ought to enlarge the trade of Ireland, and invest her with all our privileges. It is our interest to impart to her every advantage of a free constitution, as we have done to Wales and Scotland. It is not to be expected that she should obtain such terms of taxation as Scotland did; which, in that respect, is much better off than even England. Her taxes can never rise above a given sum,


though her wealth, and consequently her ability to bear a much greater burden, is every day increasing. But there were good reasons, then subsisting, why Scotland made so advantageous a bargain.