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Testament, exclusive of various other improving books : In many instances, parents had begun to receive the light reflected from the minds of their children, and to indulge a laudable pride in hearing them lisp the praiscs, or repeat the commands of their Creator and Redeemer. But the Board of Excise, by exciting the spirit of revenge, and aggravating the effects of famine, have dissipated all these flattering visions of future civilization. Many of the innocent tongues which afforded such delightful expectations, are now mute in the grave, in consequence of famine and its attendant diseases : for, as I have already stated, the seizure of cows deprived children of their chief support. The malignant sentiments of human nature have now taken place of the benevolent; and the peasantry have discono, tinued the sums formerly contributed by them for education.
• In those places where churches and giebe houses are required, the same cruel cause prohibits improvement. The liberal loans which Parliament has authorized for their erection or restoration, have. proved useless, the clergy being unable to secure even the interest of the money so advanced, in consequence of the general devastation; for when the inhabitants are unable to support their lives, they deer such expenses extraordinary and unnecessary. By the late inordinate levy of still fines, every thing good appears to have been an." nihilated, and every thing bad promoted.' p. 90.
After what we have just seen, it may be edifying to follow this Town-land fining system into the Courts of Justice, and observe the cution with which the penalties are sometimes imposed. Sir John Stewart, * after stating that he knew many instarices of fines, where the inhabitants must have been ignorant of the offence, as where a man had dropt a still, or some part of it, in a Town-land, and explaining that the costs of suit precluded the poor from making any detence, goes on to inform the House * At the last Assizes held at Lifford, I believe four days were allowed for the whole business of the county. By the law, all these informations have precedence, and must be tried before any thing else. There were fire hundred and ninety three informations for stiil fines to be tried. Afier sitting a good while, one of the Grand Jury caine into the Jury-roo:n, and said, the Judge had tried them at the rate of one a minute. His words were, “ He knocked them off at the rate of one a minute;" and they went on in that manner till the Grand Jury remonstrated, and stated, that the gaol could hold no more." We are at a loss which w admire most-- the law, or the way in which it is administered. This is by no means a solitary instarce.
We have no room, however, for further extracts; and must refer any one who is anxious to acquire a more exact knowledige of the subject, to the sources of intorniatie? we bave pointed out.
• Minutes of Evidence, p. 36.
There is another feature of the system, however, which cannot be passed over in silence. It appears scarcely possible to execute the laws in question without the aid of the soldiery.
That the people should oppose every obstacle to their cxecution, is but too natural a consequence of the opinions they entertain of them, and of the despair to which they are driven by the unrelenting lery of the fines. They consider themselves engaged in warfare with Government; and resort to all means of fraud and, violence, to disappoint its officers and agents. They concert signals by which to intimate through the district 8 gauger's approach; because their innocence, affording them no protection, they cannot escape the punishment of presumed guilt, but by giving the illegal distiller warning to carry off the materials of his manufacture, so that nothing may be found to subject their town-land or parish to a fine. They proceed to greater extremities.
There are instances of cattle being slaughtered to prevent their falling into the hands of the Excise; and they even resist, by open violence, the execution of the law, to an extent which could scarcely be credited. No levy of fines can be made without the cooperation of the military; and if the collector venture to leave his escort but at a short distance, his life is inevitably in danger. This is no idle parade.-The parties are attacked;--they must often overcome by arms the opposition of the peasantry; and must sometimes fight for their own safety. More than once, considerable detachments have been surrounded in the mountains,—the passes have been occupied, and the means of retreat cut of,--and the troops forced to retire under a disgraceful capitulation, and the abandonment of their seizures. This frightful scene is exhibited wherever the exertions of the Excise make themselves to be felt in the levy of the Town-land fines,
We are very far from justifying this popular resistance to the officers of law; but it is impossible to deny, that there is a great deal to palliate it. The guilt of illicit distillation itself is not very obvious to a rude and ignorant people. It is not me of those crimes which human nature regards with an instant and instinctive abhorrence. To discern its criminality requires some knowledge of the relations of civil society—a clear perception of the injury done to the fair trader-of the necessity of enforcing the duties which supply the public revenue-and of the demoralisation which inevitably results from addiction to illicit traffie. Still, however, the lowest classes may be made to see the propriety of chastising, even with severity, the actual delinquent; But they never can be brought to understand, why a whole country should be involved in a common presumption of guilt; the innocent, and perhaps the deserving, find no advantage in
their character ; and a peasant, with his family, reluced to beycary, because a crime has been committeil, far froin his dwelling, without bis accession, probably without his knowledge. Ruinous penalties so inflicted, have in them more of the blindness of vengeance, than the sober discrimination of justice; and exbibit, especially to uninstructed eyes, the proceedings of a capricious and arbitrary master, not the wholesome correction of à parent. The people may be undisciplined, and easily excited to disaffection : But then, the more is it indispensable that the cause for which Government arrays herself in terror should be visibly the right, and that her reason and her equity should be conspicuous even in her sternest mood. Nothing can vindicate measures which give more than a colourable ground of discontent, and engender sentiments that destroy the peace, and menace the existence of society. Nor is the effect of such scenes on the army to be forgotten. They cannot be engaged in a more odious scrvice than the enforcement of these fines. It familiarizes them with an image of the worst parts of war,-of plunder and pillage, -and renders them habitual and callous instruments of the sufferings of their countrymen.-But this is a topic which we should regret to think needed any comment.
The only semblance of justice the Town-land fining system shows, is allowing to the persons on whom the penalty has been tevied, recourse against the actual offender. This, however, is but a mockery in practice. The costs of suit, and the difficulty of conviction, of themselves abridge the remedy. But, in truth, it cannot exist at all; for the illicit distiller is generally of the lowest order, without any visible estate, whose funds are secreted, and commonly dissipated by his profligate habits, except what may be required for the continuance of his trade. Look to the fact. Can it be imagined, that all the illicit distillers in Ireland could repay the 350,0001. imposed during seven years?
Exhausted as the finances of this country are, we still think there are higher considerations than treasure; and would liazard an opinion, that no gain on the score of revenue could compensate the mischiefs that experience has shown to be inseparable from these enactments. But what shall we say, when we discover, to crown all, that this system of penalty and terror has had no decisive success? In some districts which are overrun with excise-officers and soldiers, and where the gentry and yeomanry scour the country in search of stills and distillers, illicit distillation, though seldom entirely subdueti, is very much suppressed. Where the vigilance of the officers, however, is relaxed, or where the army is not present, it continues with unabated vigour; and in some places it seems to brave the law, and continue active, amidst the misery and desolation of those tracts which have most suffered under the exaction of the fines. Mr Chichester, in his First Letter, page 93, says-
• The mountainous parts of Ireland attest the truth of this assertion, especially the county of Donegall, which seems to have been made the field of triai between the Board of Excise and the illicit distiilers. I appeal to every inhabitant of that county to declare, whether they ever witnessed so much unlicensed spirits conveyed along the public roads, or knew of so many unlicensed distilleries as exist at the present moment; and if, in some smali districts, the practice has suffered a momentary depression, the smothered fire bursts out with increased force in their vicinity.' In his Second Letter he adds, · That such a system has been unsuccessful in the county of Donegail, is evident to any person wito knows that, dur. ing the last two years, fines have been incurred by the several townlands in that county to the amount of 30,000%; bo withstanding that the Board of Excise had nearly destroyed some parts of that county by their previous severity in the levy of them. And be it remembered, that, in the last month, at the assizes, fines it cre imposed, for recent ortences against the distillery laws, exceeung the sum of 90001.--a circumstance suiticient, I shouid thank, to silence the cia nours of all those misinformed merch alles and interested exe cisemen, who demand the continuance of cruety.'
It is by no means difficult to explain ittent effects. By giving one half of the fine to the excise-ofticer informing, the law, far from ensuring the active fulfilment of his daty, exposes him to almost irresistible temptations to fraud. It is in evidence, that officers having 601. of salary make between 5001. and 10001. a year, of seizures and premiums, and would be reduced to their salaries were illicit distillation repressed. Persons in their situation have seldom such virtue and disinterestedness, that we should expect them, from mere conscience, to destroy the source of such uncommon profit;t and the Irish guagers seem to be by no means of proof quality, but to fall below the ordinary standard of Excise. Their interest and duty are thus. too directly at variance, to make it doubtful which should ultimately prevail; and there is too much reason to believe, that the officers often connive at the continuance of the trade, and make their seizures, less with the view of eradicating the evil, than of procuring the imposition of fines. It is not for their advantage to banish the illicit distiller, from whose punishment they reap comparatively little emolument, but to preserve him to a certain extent, and make him the occasion of pecuniary penalties, to be
• Minutes of Evidence, p. 37. et alibi.
+ See Report of Commissioners in 1807, and other documents referred to by Mr Chichester, in his Second Letter, p. 12. &c.
levied from the landholders. That there has been very great misconduct, and wilful encouragement of illicit distillation, on the part of the excise-officers, is certainly the general opinion expressed by the gentlemen examined before the House, and abundantly probable from many facts which they attest.
But the system is palpably inefficient in another view. It does not remove the temptation to the crime. It is impossible that the exertions necessary to repress illegal distillation can be made, at onec, over every part of the country. Where the officers and the military are present and active, it may be checked, or driven to other districts in which their absence or relaxation afford greater facility; but it is self-evident, that, if it were put down to-morrow, it would revive next day, unless the means of its repression were kept in full strength and operation. This is a radical and incurable defect of the town-land system, independently altogether of the other objections to its efficacy. · The true remedies of reducing the duty, and encouraging the small capitalists to engage in the manufacture of spirits, have never been adequately tried. There seems to have been some intention of making the experiment in 1812 and 1813; but the measures were very deficient, and the trial was greatly too short. The Excise seem to have been seized with a fit of impatience, and to have thought it unworthy of their dignity to yield any thing to the habits of the people, or to allow, what has since been clearly demonstrated, that they were unequal to the forcible repression of the evil. The experiment, however, should be made again, upon a better matured plan, and a larger period allowed for the fair display of its effects. It is, or ought to be, plain that the present system of things cannot continue. The suspensions by statute in 1810, and the occasional suspensions by the executive of Ireland, proceeded very much from the impossibility of executing the law. But what greater censure can there be, than is innplied in that fact? This leads us to mention a circumstance, which furnishes a striking comment on all that we have said. In 1816, the people were reduced to such despair by the levy of these fines, that they abstained from gathering in their crop or digging their potatoes, from an apprehension that they would be seized for still fines; and the Board of Excise, to prevent famine, were forced to issue a proclamation, (see App, No. 4, p. 121 of First Letter), declaring that the collection of fines was suspended for a month, and that, after that period, they would not be levied from corn or potatoes.' We are told this promise was not exactly kept; but it is of little consequence. We can, with difficulty, figure the state of the country which required it to be made.