Page images
PDF
EPUB

this manner we can readily imagine the fever to have been first imported into Great Britain from the sister island, and subsequently carried from one place to another ; because a series of facts proves, that the epidemic first began in Ireland.

We have thus once more performed an important duty, at the risk of offending many of our polite and fastidious readers :-and endeavoured to make our popularity subservient to the great cause of humanity, in spite of our consciousness that we are exposing it to hazard by the experiment. At the expense, we fear, of some disgust, and certainly of much tediousness, we have now put into the hands of many the means of doing a great deal of substantial good, and of mitigating and abridging a scene of most pitiable suffering. We trust, too, that we have also put it into the heads and the hearts of no few, to avail themselves, in práctice and effect, of what has thus been suggested : and, with this view, we have purposely abstained from all ingenious theories and questionable speculations, and confined ourselves to such safe, simple, and radical directions, as all benevolent individuals of ordinary understanding can at once perfectly comprehend, and correctly apply. The good that may be done, or the misery at least that may be prevented, at such a season as this, by their resolute exertions, we verily believe to be incalculable :and are persuaded, not only that the present scene of affliction may thus be speedily made to pass away, but that the habits and precautions to which the great body of the poor, and their immediate advisers, may thus be successfully trained, will prevent the recurrence of ihe same evils, on any future occasion, to nearly the same extent.

Art. X. 1. Oppressions and Cruelties of Irish Revenue Officers ;

being the Substance of a Letter to a British Member of Parliament. By the Reverend EDWARD CHICHIESTER, A. M. Rector of the Parishes of Cloncha and Culdaff, in the County of Donegal, and Justice of the Peace for that County. - London, i818.

Hoc fonte derivata clades.-Hor. 2. Observations on the Reverend Edward Chichester's Pamphlet,

entitled Oppressions and Cruelties of Irish Revenue Officers. By Eneas Correy, Acting luspector-General of Excise.

London, 1818. 3. A Second Letter to a British Member of Parliament, relative

to the Oppressions and Cruelties of Irish Revenue Officers ; wherein thc Observations of a former Letter are consi:lered and refitcd.

By the Reverend Edward CucHESTELI,

A. M. Rector of the Parishes of Cloncha and Culdaff, in the Diocese of Derry, and Justice of the Peace for the Coun

ty of Donegal. London, 1818. WE

E have risen from the perusal of these pamphlets with very

painful impressions. The facts they disclose would have excited our compassion and indignation, though they had occurred in a foreign land: And it is really lamentable to think how little the state of Ireland is known and considered in this country ;-with how dull an ear her complaints are heard, and how slow a hand is stretched out to her relief. The public mind, indeed, has, for some time past, been alive to the larger questions that involve her welfare; but most people have no more knowledge or care about the details of her government, than about those of the Russian. What is worse, the Legislature itself is not altogether exempt from this indifference, so that, where the power of remedy exists, she often finds her grievances unfelt. Into the causes of this apathy towards Ireland, it is not now our intention to enter. It is one of the results of that fatal policy, which, by treating her more as a conquered province than a sister kingdom, has long fomented the seeds of division and hostility, and prevented the growth of those sentiments of common interest and mutual affection which form the true and natural bond of union among the suivjects of one empire. We flatter ourselves, however, that there are some recent symptoms of amendment in these respects; and we are sure that its necessity cannot be better demonstrated, than by briefly stating the substance of the papers before us.

They relate to the measures that have been adopted during the last twenty years, for the suppression of the illicit distillation which has prevailed in the northern and western, and some of the central counties of Ireland. Had those measures been censurable only as inadequate to prevent fraud against the revenue, we should have felt ourselves scarce justified in canvassing them here. But their inefficiency is the least ground of objection ;-they are conceived in the very spirit of injustice; they visit, with heavy and indiscriminate penalties, the innocent and guilty; they are of such a nature, that the civil power, without the aid of the military, is unequal to their execution; they would terminate in the ruin of the districts where they are enforced, but that the excess of their rigour necessitates their occasional suspension; they destroy the morals of the people, and alienate their affections from Government, by expesing them to a mode and measure of punishment unknown to the happier and better ordered parts of the kingdom.

As it is not unadvisedly, or without reflection, that we have thus characterized the branch of the revenue laws to which we allude, we imagine the subject, though in some measure it may appear of a local and confined interest, to be unquestionably worthy of general attention. In the first place, we own ourselves to be deeply concerned for the numbers who suffer under these laws, and who have little chance of obtaining redress, till, their situation is understood upon this side of the Channel. In the next place, we shall find in them a practical and living illustration of the manner in which the domestic government of Ireland is too often conducted. Participating, as she does, in the British constitution, we casily suppose that its spirit must be everywhere visible in her administration. Nothing can be more natural than this opinion. Unfortunately, it is erroneous. The principles, from the confirmed ascendancy of which we enjoy so much confidence and repose, exert as yet but an irregular and unsteady influence in Ireland. She daily suffers under measures of severity and harshness, which would be intolerable here. . Some of them may occasionally be rendered necessary, by the greater insubordination of her people; but they have frequently proceeded from the impatience of her rulers, resorting to coercion as the shortest method, and attempting to do at once, and by violence, a work, it may be of improvement, but which time alone can effect, and a gradual welldirected change in national sentiments and habits. General complaints, besides that their vagueness lessens their effect, are easily met by denial, or charged with inaccuracy and exaggeration. But it is more difficult to deal with specific facts, which not only admit nothing short of a direct and decisive answer, but furnish surer and more striking conclusions. The character of the Government may be judged of by the prevalence of particular measures, just as that of an individual may be estimated by his conduct on particular occasions. Of course it were unjust, in either case, to extend the inference too far; but if the measures or the conduct be glaringly and unequivocally unjust and oppressive, we may be sure that there is something not quite right at heart. In the third place, we can scarcely imagine a more forcible example of the impossibility that good government should exist where the Legislature is not identified in interest and feeling with the people. This has never been the case in Ireland. Various causes contributed to prevent it before the Union, Some of these, particularly a difference of religion, have continued since. To which it must now be added, that she is governed by a Legislature, many members of whom are strangers to her interests and sity

[ocr errors]

ation,-are in no respect affected by the peculiar laws enacted upon her account,--and therefore are led, by considerations of convenience, or a slight show of expediency, to confer powers, which nothing but absolute necessity would be thought to justify in England. If they are thus lightly granted, they are likely to be freely used. The same circumstances which caused them to be bestowed without scruple, diminish the responsibility attached to their exercise.

There is no great difficulty, as it appears to us, in fully understanding the general merits of the system pursued for the suppression of illicit distillation; nor is it at all necessary to go into the intricacies and contradictions of the Excise laws. It is quite clear, that there can be no better subject of taxation than distilled spirits, which form a luxury of very general consumption. The higher, too, it is practicable to raise the duty, so much the more advantageous; because, while the same revenue is yielded, the increase of price will withdraw the commodity in some degree from those classes in which its use is most liable to dangerous and immoral excess. But however advisable it may appear to derive the same revenue from a higher duty on a smaller quantity of spirits, many obstacles present themselves to the accomplishment of this purpose. In particular, a competition is instantly excited between the legal and illegal distiller,-the duty imposed on the former, operating as a bounty to the latter. This, however, is not all. To facilitate the collection of the revenue, various means are adopted to throw the distillation into the hands of large capitalists; and as, in such a manufacture, there are great facilities and strong inducements to commit fraud; the manufacturer is not allowed to work up the raw produce in his own way, and in the manner best calculated to ensure its sale; but every step of the process is put unider statutory rules, which, it may easily be conceived, are not calculated to produce a marketable commodity. It will be found, accordingly, to be an almost invariablefact, that legal spirits, whether from the mode of distillation, or from the materials used, are not an object of preference, but generally of distaste,— Parliament whisky'

being a common term for a nauseous and deleterious spirit. The legal distiller, who thus produces at a high price an unpalateable article, has no protection but the monopoly which the law confers on him. This monopoly, however, it is impossible to maintain, in opposition to the tastes and habits of a great part of the community, who have neither power nor inclination to purchase the legal spirit, but who are willing to pay the illicit distiller a profit, which in general is sufficient to make up for the hazard be incurs from the penalties of law. In a country, indeed,

thickly peopled, of orderly habits, and under a well organized police, and without the retirement and command of fuel which illicit distillation requires, the legal manufacturer may be in a great measure made secure of his market, and protected by the activity and vigilance of Revenue officers, from the competition of spirits which have not been regularly charged with duty. The case, however, is evidently quite different in a waste and mountainous country, like the Highlands of Scotland, and very extensive tracks in the northern and western parts of Ireland. These uncultivated and inaccessible districts, abounding with water and fuel, give every encouragement to illicit distillation; the more especially, as the capital required is small, and the sale of the spirits produces a quick return in money, while the profit, in the present state of the law, is generally sufficient io compensate the loss by seizures, and the personal danger to which delinquents are exposed. As the illegal distiller can afford to pay a considerable price for the scanty crops of barley which are grown in these districts, and for which in fact there is often no other competitor in the market, it is natural, and indeed almost certain, that he will be encouraged by the smaller tenants, who, on the one hand, sell their produce advantageously, and, upon the other, receive the commodity they are in want of.

From all these causes it could not fail to result, that when, about thirty-five years ago, the Irish distillery laws were assimilated to those of Britain, the small stills, indirectly at least suppressed, and the manufacture placed in the hands of the great capitalists, under burden of heavy duties, illicit distillation should begin to prevail in Ireland, in its more mountainous and deserted districts, to a very formidable extent. In 1807, the Commissioners appointed to inquire generally into the fees, &c. of public offices in Ireland, in their report upon the Excise, calculated upon what they thought reasonable data, that one-third part of the spirits consumed in Ireland, was illegally distilled. The injury to the revenue was consequently great. The pernicious effects upon the people were still more to be lamented. These were not only the increase of drunkenness, from the abundance of spirits, but the disorderly and profligate habits, the destruction of industry, and contempt of authority, which, sooner or later, mark the character of the smuggler. Such a wide-spread and alarming evil very early called the attention of Government; and, in the consideration of its causes, the true means of its correction might have been discovered. A reduction of the duty, by diminishing the profit of the illicit distiller, would have removed much of the temptation which led him to defy the menaces of the law. Then,

« PreviousContinue »