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PRESENT STATE OF IRELAND.
MONTESQUIEU observes that England, through a jealousy of Ireland, on account of its situation, its fertility, and the excellence of its ports, notwithstanding that she established there, her own laws, imposed on it such restrictions, that while the people enjoyed individual liberty, the country itself was kept in a state of political slavery.* Another celebrated writer says nearly the same thing;+ and, however mortifying it may be to the pride of a nation which, on many occasions, has manifested a spirit of liberality worthy of a great and independent empire, it must be allowed, when we consult the page of impartial history, that these reflections are too much founded in truth; but that the system which gave rise to them should have been pursued a century and a half ago, excites less surprise than that it should have been so long continued. Living in a more enlightened, instructed by the experience of preceding generations, and being much better acquainted with the true principles of political economy, it might be uncandid to examine the measures of former statesmen, by applying to them the modern standard of political justice and wisdom. As they were guided in their conduct by motives which we see only at a distance, and, perhaps, through a different medium, we ought to be sparing of our censure; and, if blame is due, to let it fall chiefly upon those who, in days more favourable to the acquirement of knowledge, suffered themselves to be influenced by considerations unworthy of the period in which they lived.
* Esprit. des Loix, lib. xix. ch. 27. Œuvres, tom, ii. p. 205.
"The provinces of absolute monarchies are always better treated than those of free states. Compare the Pais conquis of France with Ireland, and you will be convinced of this truth; though this latter kingdom being in a good measure peopled from England, possesses so many rights and privileges as should naturally make it challenge better treatment than that of a conquered province." Hume's Essays, vol. i. p. 30.
But, although the general legislative system of England in regard to Ireland seems to have been tinctured with a spirit of jealousy, and fear of rivalship in manufactures and trade, it is not thence to be inferred that the interests of the latter were uniformly neglected, or that assistance was always denied her in the hour of distress. So far is this from being the case, that it is acknowledged by some of the most respectable of the Irish writers, that Britain, for a long series of years, made effectual exertions to repair the evils arising from the restraints by which her commerce had been checked and confined. She opened her great markets to part of the linen manufacture of Ireland; and she encouraged it by granting bounties on its exportation, to the amount, taking an average of twenty-nine years, of nearly £10,000. per annum.* It is admitted, also, that she has made important sacrifices for the protection of the country; and that, on some occasions, she has defended it at her own expense, generously bestowing, for that purpose, out of her own exchequer, considerable sums of money.+
It is to be observed, also, that even if England has not at all times behaved to Ireland with that impartiality, tenderness, and affection, which she had a right to expect, or which her misfortunes demanded, it would be ungenerous to ascribe to her the whole of the evils she has suffered. If we inquire minutely into the domestic history of the country for the last century, it will be seen that many of them arose from causes which, depending on natural events, no human prudence could foresee or prevent. Others were produced not by public measures, but by the injustice or misconduct of individuals, oppression of the poor, and speculations entered into without due reflection or the means of conducting them with success: We should be cautious, therefore, in listening to the clamour raised by party writers, whose favourite object is to impress the Irish with an idea that connexion with England has been the bane of Ireland, and the source of all her misery and distress. The dissemination of such ideas is attended with the most pernicious effects; it creates an ill-founded jealousy, inimical to national concord, and has a tendency to increase discontent among the people; who, unfortunately, not being able, on all occasions, to discriminate falsehood from truth, er to separate public grievances from private wrongs, blindly allow themselves to be misled by principles which are the offspring of ignorance and prejudice.
It does not appear that the commercial jealousy of England was so far excited as to impose restraints on the trade of Ireland till a long period after the colonization of that country, under Henry II.; and it was only when the increase of the English commerce rendered it an object of particular attention to the parliament, that a spirit of monopoly began to be manifested, and Ireland to be considered as a competitor rather than an integral part of the empire. In the whole statute roll, down to the + Ibid, p. 219.
* Commercial Restraints, p. 32.
Knox's Extra Official State Papers, p. 59.