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

Letter 36


From the general view I have taken of the mutual advantages resulting from a union, you must, I flatter myself, be inclined to think that nothing could more directly tend to the future aggrandisement of the British Empire at large. It will, however, be vain to plead for it, unless it can be demonstrated, that a measure so generally beneficial, would not prove detrimental to those who have the influence and power to obstruct it. There are violent popular prejudices on both sides the water against it; which very opposition of sentiment furnish a presumptive argument in its favour. But let us examine the most material of these objections.

Some of our merchants allege, that if we put the on an equal footing with


ourselves, they will at once monopolize our trade; the situation of their island being better, with respect to commerce; their havens safer, and their ports more numerous.

Our manufacturers cry out, we shall be undone, for the Irish, who can live upon potatoes, will be able to undersell us at every market.

The farmer urges, if you let the Irish export their corn, we shall not be able to pay our rents; and the landlord concludes, that of course the value of lands will fall.

The politician argues, by admitting into our legislature such a number of additional peers and commoners, we throw a dead weight in the scale of government, and so overturn the just balance of our constitution.

And the populace exclaim with clamorous voice, — What! Denizen the whole Irish nation, and convey the birth-right of Englishmen to above two millions of bogtrotters; Liverpool, Bristol, and all the sea-ports on the western coast instruct their representatives;


Birmingham, Sheffield, and other inland towns memorial government, not to execute a scheme, so big with ruin to the manufactures, the commerce, and the liberties of old England.

Audi alteram partem. The merchant need not be alarmed for his trade, for trade cannot be carried on without stock, and stocks the Irish have not; and if they had, they have neither the habits, nor the knowledge of commerce. No sensible alteration can possibly happen for this generation, unless our merchants should open warehouses in the Irish ports, and then they would profit themselves without injuring their native country. This method is already adopted in the linen trade of Ireland, which owes much of its success to the English capitals which are embarked in it. One would think that political wisdom might, at this day, be old enough among us to be convinced that no trade can be overstocked in a free country, if all the departments are fitly arranged. Trade begets trade, as merchant begets merchant; arts produce arts, and inventions pullulate from inventions. There will be room enough, at all times, for the full exercise


of all the industry of both countries, without any clashing. The fisheries, the carrying business, &c. are all open and monopolized by the Dutch. Does London thrive the less, because Liverpool and Glasgow grow wealthy? Mistaken maxims, and selfish policies so mix themselves in public councils, that the most certain and weighty interests of the community are frequently sacrificed to the most doubtful and trivial private advantages.

Birmingham and Sheffield may sleep secure upon their smoky pillows; for Ireland imports her coals from England, and, therefore, will not heat a furnace more for half a century, though an union should take place to-morrow. They need not fear being undersold, though the Irish at present drag on a miserable life upon potatoes. They should consider, that their Vulcanian sons could not subsist upon such spare and meagre diet. If Ireland, or any part of it, should ever ply the anvil, her Cyclops must live like those of England, the fledge must be wielded by force of beef and pudding. Brought upon a level in the article of subsistence, there is no reason why she should


supplant them, but every reason to the contrary. It is demonstrable, and it has been demonstrated by Dr. Tucker, that a poor nation can never carry away from a rich one, those manufactures, the cheapness of which depends chiefly on large capitals, and complicated machinery. The Scotch live not more expensively than the Irish, yet experience proves that no English manufacture has been injured by their competition since the union.

The only manufacture now prohibited, which could in a short time avail the Irish, is that of coarse woollen drapery, which we have already shewn would be the most sure buttress, and firm support of England's declining trade in that article; as will be made still more evident by what we are going to say in answer to the objections of the farmers, and their landlords.

The one thinks that he keeps up the price of his grain, and the other of his lands, by discouraging Irish agriculture; but they should at the same time consider that trade is the source of the high value both of lands and provisions. Whatever promotes the general trade of a country, raises the


price of lands by the greater demand for its produce, and consequent influx of cash. The granting this country a liberty of exporting grain at all times, would more contribute to raise the rate of lands, by an increase of commerce, than to lower them by diminishing the price of their productions. The abundance of provisions permits the manufacturer to sell his fabricks cheap abroad; and a multiplication of consumers enables the farmer to pay his rent at home.

A redundancy of the necessaries of life is the last thing to be dreaded in a manufacturing and trading country. The Hollander sees this, and therefore sets no bar against the importation of provisions, come from whence they may. And therefore, never feeling scarcity, he is ever able to undersell his neighbours. The high rate of provisions abridges the consumption of manufactures, and of course beggars the manufacturer. Accordingly we may every day perceive an increasing poverty among our labourers, journeymen, and lower mechanicks; who must therefore migrate into other countries, where the means of living


are more easily earned. Whether the decrease of our lower people proceeds from this or other causes, the fact is, that the dearness of provisions has been the complaint for several years past. As a remedy for this evil, ought not these idle hands to be employed? By encouraging Irish agriculture, we shall have more convenient supplies for our manufactures than from America; and whilst we are repairing the wastes made by pasturage here, we shall be filling up the gap made in our numbers at home.

But our political objector is still to be answered. And he argues from the remote sources of ancient history. He tells you that the Roman constitution was impaired by the incorporation of the Italian States, and destroyed by the enfranchisement of their other conquests. Now, though the empire did decline after the last of these aeras, it does not follow that its declension proceeded from that cause.

Besides, the union of the States in Italy, and out of it, are separate questions; neither of which properly apply to the case in


point, as the learned must easily see. The empire became a body too unwieldy for the government of one head, and was overset, not by foreign voters, but by foreign mercenaries. Had Italy borne a larger proportion to its conquests, it would have been much safer, as it would have had more internal strength to command obedience. The vicinity of Ireland makes me consider it, in a political view, as part of Britain, the junction of which would increase the power of the latter to govern its foreign dependencies.

The giving the right of Roman citizens to foreigners, no doubt was sufficient to overturn the balance of power in the little republic of Rome; but the republic of Rome, and the Roman empire are very different objects. When Rome and its conquests were under the government of one man, its security depended on the firm union of its European territories. The want of this union divided the eastern from the western empire, and at length subdivided both into their original number of States.

If a parallel is to be drawn between Rome and Britain, as to a union with


their dependencies, we should consider Ireland in relation to Britain, as one of the Italian States in respect to Rome; and America as the African and Asiatick territories. Yet I question whether any just parallel can be drawn even this way; so different are the manners of the people, and the spirit of antient and modern government. Be that, however, as it may, it cannot be conceived that a member from each county in Ireland, and from three or four of its best towns, with twelve or fourteen Irish peers, could endanger the liberties of England. Nay it is evident, that if the universal happiness of the people be the perfection of government, this measure seems absolutely necessary to complete our constitution. For how can that assembly, whose decisions regulate the whole, deliberate equitably on the interests of the several parts without information? And can information come with such truth and propriety as from representatives?

As to popular objections, they are as infinite as they are nugatory, and therefore I shall bid both them and you farewell.