Plan for the Gradual Creation of a Farmer-Proprietary in Ireland.
"It is vain to expect that any care of deep-seated social disorders can be, at the same time, radical in its nature and rapid in its operation."—Auguste Comte.
Every practical contribution to the Irish land question must satisfy two conditions—it must be sound in principle, and adapted to the special circumstances of Ireland. Some will demand, as a third condition, entire conformability with the laws of England. "Exceptional legislation" is, in itself, doubtless, a disadvantage with reference to countries which, though differing widely in their history and circumstances, are, nevertheless, united under one general government. But it is unjust and impolitic to press this view to extreme conclusions. Those who urge it, to the exclusion of other considerations, overlook or underestimate qualifying facts of great importance. The English tenure of land, and its management, as compared with that of all the other States of Western Europe, is itself highly exceptional. Again, the Parliament of the United Kingdom has, within the last twenty years, in spite of a strong assimilating tendency, established various public institutions, unsupported by English precedent, but deemed suitable and necessary for Ireland.
Among such institutions I would especially recall two, as having a direct bearing on our subject:—the Board of Works; and the Incumbered, now the Landed Estates' Court.
Uniformity of legislation is, therefore, of subordinate importance to soundness of principle and suitability to special circumstances. Agreeably to this view, I submit that there exists an urgent need for means calculated to promote the gradual formation of a Farmer-Proprietary in Ireland. The legislative sanction of such a proprietary is, however, opposed by misconceptions which it is necessary to meet and remove.
The example of Prussia, as pointed out in a previous paper, proves how groundless is the view which identifies a proprietary cultivating their own farms (without the intervention of tenant-farmers), with exclusively small holdings, and inferior agriculture; and how equally groundless is the apprehension that the absence of artificial restrictions on alienation, a genuine free trade in land ownership, produces rapid or excessive subdivision. The application of these results to the Irish land question requires some explanations.
English agriculture essentially rests upon a system of indirect cultivation through tenant-farmers, who, for the most part, have no legal
security, being tenants-at-will merely. The moral disadvantages of arrangements which thus separate the labourer from the proprietor, throwing the natural responsibility of the owner on a class of tenant-farmers inferior in social position and education, are very great, and have recently attracted public attention. The economic success of the English system depends entirely on the realization, in a greater or less degree, of two conditions. First, a quasi-partnership subsists between the landlord and tenant; one supplying the fixed capital—land, buildings, permanent improvements; the other furnishing the agricultural, or
floating capital, which is to some extent protected, in defect of special agreement, by legalized customs. Secondly, there exists in England a kind of mercantile understanding, the result, partly of a high degree of hereditary mutual confidence, partly of the strong interest which landlords have in well treating capitalist holders of large farms. To make a system of land tenure so peculiar the universal standard is surely neither scientific nor practical. Its indefinite continuance, even in England, is open to serious doubt; and that on mere economic grounds, apart from higher social and moral considerations. A recent authority on English agriculture*
writes as follows:—"Steam cultivation the writer considers the great agricultural question of the day, the turning point on which hangs that of profit or loss by the occupier of the land. If the landlords knew their own interest, and cared for that of their tenants, they would not neglect making permanent improvements. But the indifference they display, as a body, in availing themselves of the facility offered by the Government for draining their lands, affords little prospect of their laying down the land with rails at an expense of £18 or £20 per acre, and it would be madness for a tenant-farmer to do so, without a tenant-right guaranteeing to him remuneration at the expiry of his lease." The progress, and even the existence, of agriculture in England, will, I believe, more and more depend on its gradually attaining a genuine industrial constitution, as contrasted with its existing abnormal, semi-feudal constitution. Such a transformation can be effected in various ways. The proprietor may superintend or direct cultivation; the tenant-farmer may himself become a proprietor. Writers of eminence, both English and foreign, have, very unwisely, I think, identified farming
* Agriculture. By "The Old Norfolk Farmer" (Samuel Copland). 2 Vols. 1866.
by proprietors themselves with small holdings. No doubt the disadvantages incident to tenancies-at-will, or short leases, are more easily and generally palliated where the holdings are large. On the other hand, where such palliations do not exist, even small farms tilled by their owners produce more, and certainly ensure, in a far higher degree, general well-being. But without disregarding such considerations, I think it is important to grasp the broad principle of a Farmer-Proprietary. Such a body includes, indeed, peasant proprietors, but it embraces also—as we see in Prussia, Saxony, and other German States, I believe also in Belgium and France—a class who, in education, capital, and skill, occupy the highest position, and set an example of the greatest practical value.
The English land tenure, therefore, does not furnish a universal standard, and its adoption as such causes serious misconceptions. Writers imbued with the English system habitually exaggerate the sub-division of agricultural land on the Continent. They identify the number of registered parcels with that of proprietors which is much smaller; they confound with ordinary agriculture the fruit and vegetable cultivation so prevalent in the neighbourhood of cities, and admirably adapted to spade labour; they take no sufficient account of the multitude of city workmen, and even country labourers, who simply own a house and garden. Again, under the influence of our peculiar system, we frequently overlook the essential difference between the farmer proprietor and the tenant-farmer, although its appreciation is more necessary in proportion as the size of the holding decreases. For example, the condition of certain districts in Belgium has been recently cited as a warning; the fact being that, in those localities, the peasants are not proprietors, but tenant-farmers holding by short leases, and paying high rents, which are increased from time to time. It is, also, constantly
assumed that the greater sub-division of landed property on the Continent has been caused by modern legislation. As a general rule this is not the case. The transformation which, during the last three or four centuries in England, gradually consolidated the smaller holdings and yeoman properties into large farms rented by tenant-farmers, had, with few exceptions, no counterpart in France, Belgium, or Germany. The causes which produced this movement were connected with the historic development and peculiar situation of England, and did not exist in the other States of Western Europe. There an extensive sub-division of agricultural holdings continued to exist, and the continental legislation of the 19th century simply took things as it found them, transforming a class of feudal tenants into free proprietors. Generally speaking the size of the holdings was not seriously affected; nor have the subsequent changes been such as to warrant alarm. The economic and social success of that transformation of tenants into proprietors cannot be fairly tested by comparing it with a system so widely different as the English tenure. Even thus tested, the modern proprietary system of France, Belgium, and Germany, will bear an advantageous comparison; but the true criterion is afforded by contrasting the wretched cultivation and poverty of former days in those countries, with the present greatly improved and progressive condition of their agriculture and population.
How do these views bear upon the Irish land question? There is no country to which the English tenure, considered as an absolute test, is less applicable than Ireland; none, I am convinced, where the creation of a Farmer-Proprietary, in its broadest sense, is more needed; none whose antecedents and circumstances would ensure better results from the gradual introduction of a peasant-proprietorship. Economic principles must assuredly be respected. But it is, I submit, a grave
mistake to erect results due to special conditions into absolute truths. General laws, though never arbitrary, are relative; and their application demands a careful attention to the modifying influences of social existence and material situation. For example, assuming that, as alleged by Lord Dufferin, under the system of large farms and capitalist landlords and tenants, which prevails in the Lowlands of Scotland, 18 men suffice to cultivate 500 acres; it surely does not follow that agricultural improvement is impossible under other conditions. Such conclusions, I confess, appear to me to agree neither with true science nor with sound practice. They are unscientific, because they substitute hasty generalization for careful induction; unpractical, since they ignore those realities which can alone inspire wise organic reforms.
What are the facts as regards Ireland? Twenty years ago a Royal Commission, composed of landed proprietors, with Lord Devon for their chairman, reported that, contrary to the English and Scotch practice, permanent improvements—houses, offices, fences, &c.—were here, as a rule, made, not by the owner, but by the occupier. They also reported that the universal complaint of Irish tenant-farmers was want of tenure. Since that time considerable progress has, doubtless, been made; but in the two respects just mentioned—improvements and tenure—the situation remains essentially unchanged. Some 3 millions sterling, advanced by Government to the proprietors, have been expended, chiefly in drainage. The former insolvent proprietary has been largely replaced, and, doubtless, considerable sums have been expended on land improvements out of the private resources of landowners. Yet of these, both old and new, a large proportion are mere rent receivers, and how much remains to be done! At the close of the last century Arthur Young computed that 86 millions sterling were needed to place the land of Ireland on the same
agricultural footing as that of England. A high contemporary authority (Lavergne), having regard to subsequent progress, estimates the like amount at 160 millions sterling. Yet we know now that Ireland is not so deficient in capital, as was formerly supposed. The sales in the Incumbered and Landed Estates' Court to the middle classes prove this; and the large accumulation of deposits in Banks, and investments in the Funds and Railways by tenant-farmers, show that this class also possesses resources which are only diverted from land improvements by the want of legal security. The peasant-proprietor of France, Belgium, and Germany employs his savings in improving his house and farm; the Irish tenant-farmer, large and small, would do the like were he a landowner.*
Nor does the size of farms in Ireland at present furnish any sufficient reason against such a policy. The extraordinary and, as I believe, most injurious subdivision which existed previously to 1846, and was only compatible with the pre-dominance of potato cultivation, was swept away in that calamitous year and those immediately succeeding it. The painful but necessary consolidation thus effected has not, however, proceeded at the same rapid rate; and even the large continuing emigration does not produce any proportionate diminution in the number of holdings. The present condition is one of comparative stability; and the subdivision
* In confirmation of these statements I beg to refer to the section of Dr. Hancock's "Report on the Supposed Progressive Decline of Irish Prosperity," (1863), entitled "Deposits in Joint-Stock Banks," and especially to the concluding remarks (p. 52).—" These deposits indicate that any neglect in executing the more lasting agricultural improvements cannot arise from a general want of capital amongst those connected with land in Ireland; and it is a matter of grave inquiry why the farmers of Ireland should lend such large sums to the different Banks, at an average of 2 per cent., to be employed in the large towns, and much of it in London, instead of expending it in agricultural improvements in Ireland."
of land in Ireland, though great relatively to England and Scotland, no longer forbids legislation calculated to give security to the Irish farmer. True it is that one-half of the holdings are under 15 English acres. But a large proportion of these are situated in a province which ranks among the most prosperous and contented. The aggregate of such holdings includes but one-tenth of the total acreage of Ireland. Again, holdings exceeding 30 acres constitute one-fourth of the entire number, and include three-fourths of the entire acreage. In every county farms between 50 and 100 acres, and even larger, exist side by side with the smaller farms.*
It is well known that holdings even of the smaller size enable industrious farmers to save, and sometimes largely. By a recent Parliamentary Return (Agricultural Holdings in Ireland, moved for by Lord Mayo, 19th March, 1867, No. 144,) I find that out of 608,864 purely agricultural holdings, the annual value of 45,979 is estimated by the Public Valuation at between £15 and £20; of 83,259 at between £20 and £50; and of 35,955 at £50 and upwards.†
It seems, there fore, that the distribution of land in Ireland, while incompatible with English and Scotch management, is well suited to a mixed proprietary system of larger and small farms.
The gradual creation of a Farmer-Proprietary in Ireland is then, I submit, a matter of vital importance. How can it be effected? The Prussian land-tenure reforms described in a previous paper, taken as a whole, are, I think, inapplicable to our circumstances. The Prussian tenants, individually or as a class, had rights in the soil which justified the course pursued. Irish tenants-at-will have no such rights. Even the "gracious customs" of Ulster, ancient and honourable as they are, afford the tenant no legal
protection; give the maker or
* See Appendix A., and "Agricultural Statistics," 1867.
purchaser of permanent improvements no claim for compensation, when the estate is sold in the Landed Estates' Court to the highest] bidder. It is therefore difficult, consistently with justice or sound policy, to make laws for the compulsory
conversion of tenants into landowners, or the compulsory
redemption of rents. Nevertheless, the great land-tenure reform of Prussia does, I am convinced, furnish an invaluable pre-cedent. It enforces a principle, and presents an institution eminently applicable to Irish circumstances. The principle is that of encouraging the transformation of occupiers, large and small, into owners; the institution that of the Rent-Bank.*
To effect such gradual creation of a Farmer-Proprietary, we need simply develop a policy which has already taken strong hold and effected much good in Ireland—I mean that of facilitating the sale of land
. We require only to extend the operation of the Landed Estates' Court and the Record of Title in such a way that their benefits shall practically
reach to the occupiers and tillers of the soil. It seems to me that the Landed Estates' Court, as completed by the Record of Title, occupies in our social development a position analogous to that of the Stein-Hardenberg legislation. The two earlier reforms received in Prussia, as before explained, their final development through the Rent-Bank. The same institution can, I am convinced, be applied with the greatest advantage to facilitate the sale of their holdings to the tenant-farmers of Ireland.
The soundness and feasibility of a policy which enables occupiers to become proprietors by purchase of their holdings is illustrated by a recent English Act (14 & 15 Vict., c. 104), authorizing the sale of Church-Estates to their lessees and copy-holding tenants. Under that Act, in the space of ten years (1851-61), property to the value of £7,357,000 has been
* As is more folly explained below (p. 34 and Note), I do not refer to the machinery of the Rent-Bank, but to its principle.
enfranchised, the lessees' interest amounting to 52 per cent., that of the copy-holders to 48 per cent. Landowners also in England, Scotland, and Ireland have for many years obtained large advances of public money, repayable by instalments for making permanent improvements; and recent Acts of Parliament (29 & 30 Vict., c. 72 and c. 73) have placed this Public Loan system on a permanent footing. The Secretary of State for Ireland introduced this year a Bill for extending the benefit of such loans to Irish tenants-at-will. I submit that the principle of Public Loans applies with greater advantage and less difficulty to the purchase than to the improvement of their farms by occupiers, especially where these are tenants-at-will only. The same high authority, however, appears to consider that any such assistance is needless, since, as he states, the Landed Estates' Court now not unfrequently sells in lots of 100 acres; and the subdivision on sales would, he urges, be carried to a still greater extent if a desire really existed for smaller lots. Lord Mayo, however, in the same speech made some remarks which, as it seems to me, indicate the true reason why, at present, such a demand does not arise among the tenant-farmers. The occupiers are by no means indifferent to becoming proprietors, but either the required money is not at their command, or its investment in the purchase of the land would leave them without the necessary farming capital, a consideration to which, as Lord Mayo observes, they are fully alive. These, I believe, are the general and serious difficulties which have hitherto hindered the purchase of land, by occupiers, in the Landed Estates' Court. How to meet them is the problem; and this, I submit, can be solved by instituting a Land-Purchase Public-Loan for Ireland.
As stated in a previous paper, Prussia, Saxony, and, in fact, all the principal German States, possess Rent-Banks. They were instituted by the State in consideration of their
great public importance, and because no private association could afford the guarantees essential for their financial success and social efficacy. The establishment in Ireland of a system analogous to, and in substance essentially the same with the Rent-Banks of Germany, simply involves the extension and further application of a principle already sanctioned, and largely used, by our system of public loans for drainage and other land improvements. Advances are made by the State, repayable by instalments, calculated to refund principal, with intermediate interest, in a given period. The advances of the Kent-Banks, however, are, generally speaking, made, not in specie, but in paper-money; the credit of the State being pledged for the payment of a specified rate of interest, and the principal in full on giving six months' notice, according as the collection of the rents allows of such liquidation. The system of Rent-Debentures seems to have real advantages, being well adapted for the gradual discharge of the liability incurred by the State, and affording a ready and safe investment for local savings, as well as trust and other moneys of larger amount. It has worked well on the Continent, but its adoption here, or the adherence to the method of direct advances, is only a question of machinery. The essential problem involves two conditions—the maximum of accommodation to industrious and saving tenants desirous of purchasing their farms, compatible with entire security to the State against loss. I venture to submit the following plan as one which, on a careful consideration, appears to me to meet these requisites of a system of Public Loans for Ireland, intended to assist occupying tenants to purchase their farms.*
* I wish to add a few words in order to prevent misapprehension as to the facts and my meaning, both of which have been mistaken—in part, I assume, owing to the necessary imperfections of the newspaper abstract of my papers—by an authority generally so well informed and careful as the Economist. I acknowledge with pleasure the friendly tone of their criticism (see Economist, 5th October), and have considered the article in question with the attention due to their recognized position, as a financial organ. First—the Rent-Banks were not established in Prussia until the recent date of 1850, and the issue of Rent-Debentures was contemporaneous with loans, raised by the Prussian Government in the way usual in England. Thus, the Rent-Debentures were not part of an obsolete financial system; and the facts stated seem to justify the inference that, while, for ordinary State purposes, the ordinary method of raising money was employed, the Government advisedly adopted the issue of Rent-Debentures, as being the method lest adapted to meet the special object. The preference given by most other German States to Rent-Debentures for the like purpose, and the favour they enjoy with the public (see ante, p. 16), I think, confirms this conclusion. Secondly—the essence of my proposal was not the issue of Rent-Debentures, but the creation of a Rent-Rank; that is, of an institution which should, as far as could safely be done, assist the occupying tenant to purchase his farm, and at the same time extinguish his debt to the State after the lapse of a specified number of years. This end might be effected in several different ways, the choice of which, no doubt, would require careful consideration. But, whether the State were to help directly, by borrowing and advancing, or indirectly, by pledging its credit for principal and interest, this difference in the means employed would not affect the application of the principle of the Rent-Bank to Ireland as the natural supplement to the Landed Estates' Court and the Record of Title.
At the same time, it is very desirable to follow, as nearly as practicable, the analogy of our own institutions. For this reason, and after considering the views expressed by the Economist and other financial authorities, whom I have been able to consult since my return from Germany, I have somewhat modified the from of my proposal. Instead of the term Rent-Debenture I have adopted that of Land-purchase Loan, corresponding to drainage or land-improvement loan; and in place of the term Rent-Bank, I propose the extended agency of the Board of Works, which is already entrusted with the management of the existing public-loan system in Ireland.
Assuming that the occupying tenant has agreed with his landlord for the purchase of his farm, or been declared the purchaser in the Landed Estates' Court, the State might make advances, through the Board of Works, to the amount of twenty years' purchase on the yearly value, as estimated by the Public Valuation of Ireland. The tenant would have to
supply the balance of the purchase-money. On the completion of the purchase, the farm should be charged in favour of the State with a Kent-annuity equal to the public valuation, which, capitalized at the above rate of twenty years, would yield 5 per cent per annum. Of this, 3½ per cent. might be applied to pay interest on the loan and the expenses of management, and the residue of £1 10s. per cent, would remain for redemption of principal. The period required for this purpose, placing £1 10s. per cent, at compound interest, I estimate at 35 years.*
At the expiration of that period the annuity would cease, and the tenant become the absolute proprietor of his farm. He might also be permitted to shorten the redemption period by paying, from the outset, a higher rent-annuity, or by discharging the balance of capital at any time, on giving six months' notice. It is evident that the payment of the Rent-annuity to the State must be rendered perfectly secure. The rent-annuity, therefore, should be declared the first charge, with a summary power of enforcing payment by distraint and sale. The collection might be made quarterly, and through the poor-rate collectors. The title, also, ought to be unquestionable, and for this reason advances
* I am informed that this rate of annual payment, and period of redemption, are those now adopted by the Government in respect of drainage and other land-improvement loans, managed by the Board of Public Works in Ireland. The chief reason which induced me at first to propose the employment of Kent-Debentures (instead of advances in money) was the belief that, if issued at 4 per cent, the tenant purchasing would be thus enabled to obtain in the market a price considerably greater than the amount which the State could safely advance (20 years' purchase). It seems, however, very doubtful whether a security of the kind, liable to be paid off at par, either at a fixed period or some time by a drawing (as in Germany), could ever stand much above par; and in the absence of any such decided advantage to the tenant it would be undesirable to deviate from the financial plan of Public Loans already worked by the Board of Works in Ireland, and the Copyhold Commissioners for England and Scotland.
should only be made on indefeasible or parliamentary titles. The Landed Estates' Court, and its new department, the Record of Title Office, would serve this end, and in other respects facilitate the working of the system, supplying the machinery by which the advances by the Government could be safely made,*
and the purchase recorded subject to the rent-annuity. The Landed Estates' Court, also, frequently carries out sales, not by public auction, but by sanctioning private offers,†
and this process might be usefully applied to assist the grouping of contiguous farms whose occupiers combined to purchase. The restriction of State advances to parliamentary titles is, I consider, indispensable, and involves no real hardship; especially since the passing of the Record of Title Act has given such additional facilities for passing estates through the Landed Estates' Court, and for dealings with recorded estates.‡
The establishment of local registries of title, though not essential to the Public-loan system of land purchase would unquestionably facilitate its working, and in other ways promote dealings with land.
The plan thus submitted might be tried on a limited scale, and as an experimental measure, say for five years, the advances not exceeding one million sterling per annum. It appears to me to offer the following advantages. The State would assume no commercial function, nor enter into any
* The Rent-Banks of Germany only issue and hand over the debentures on receiving a warrant in writing from the Land-Legislation Commissioners, which directs the mode of doing so. This measure is plainly necessary for the protection of the rights of creditors, and generally of third parties interested in the application of the purchase money, and the like exigency would be met in Ireland by the Landed Estates' Court.
† I am informed that the entire head rents reserved on the perpetuity leases under which the town of Belfast was held, have been sold by private agreement through the Landed Estates' Court to the lessees.
‡ See "Explanatory Statement," by H. D. Hutton.
speculative purchases, but simply facilitate the completion of transactions arising in the natural course of business. With due care the administration of such system of Land-purchase Loans would involve neither loss nor ultimate cost of management. Twenty years' purchase even on the low public valuation rental may seem too high a standard for perfect safety. But any apparent risk will disappear if we duly weigh three considerations, which, I would observe, have been specially verified by the experience of the German Rent-Banks. First, the purchase could not be completed unless the credit given by the State were supplemented by private resources-Secondly, the stimulus of proprietorship would induce an outlay on permanent improvements which must, year by year, give the State an enhanced security for payment of the low rent-annuity far exceeding that which the landlord now enjoys for his rent.*
Lastly, the security of the State must constantly increase in proportion as the payment of the rent-annuity reduces the liabilities represented by the amount of loan undischarged. The interests of the tenant-farmers would be no less promoted. I estimate that the advances of Government, to the amount above proposed, would enable the occupier purchasing to obtain,
* I would add my belief that the actual rents in Ireland are, very generally, high only in a relative sense; that is, they form a large proportion of a yearly produce which is kept far below its natural level by the want of the legal security essential to induce agricultural outlay. My conviction is that, at the present time, Ireland suffers not from over-population, but from under-cultivation. This under-cultivation is mainly caused by the insufficiency of drainage, want of proper fences, outbuildings, and, I will add, good dwelling houses. The last is a moral element of incalculable importance, even in an economic point of view. The other conditions are essential, because modern agriculture depends upon the perfecting and use of agricultural instruments; the chief of these instruments being the farm itself, that is the land, not left in a mere state of nature, but transformed by the application of knowledge, skill, and capital, into a real engine of agricultural production.
on an average, from one-half to two-thirds of the selling value, estimating this at twenty-five years' purchase. But even a considerably lower proportion would, I believe, afford that class great assistance without unduly encroaching on their agricultural capital. Moreover, if this plan were adopted and proved successful, the proposal recently made by the Government to extend the benefit of Public Loans for land improvement to farmers would rest on a solid basis, and acquire a much deeper significance.*
The limitation proposed as to the amount advanced by the State seems to me preferable to fixing any major or minor limit with reference to the size of farms. The small farmer, if he be industrious, skilful, and saving, would thus be encouraged and aided; while the middle and larger class of farmers, becoming purchasers without prejudice to their floating capital, would afford useful examples of agricultural progress. It is sometimes alleged that proprietorship would not induce farmers to invest capital in their land, or practice improved farming, and that the best results are attainable under a system of short leases or tenancies-at-will with smart rents. The experience of France, Belgium, Germany, not to mention our own colonies and the United States, is quite at variance with this theory; and I believe the experience of Ireland, rightly understood, is equally so. As one proof, among many, of its incorrectness, I will quote the following recent statement respecting the property of the Earl of Portsmouth, in the County of Wexford:—" The rule upon these estates has been for several years to grant long leases at moderate rents, to abolish the system of rack-renting, and to allow tenants for their improvements. Under this rule the tenantry have invested their capital in buildings and permanent improvements on the land to a surprising extent—in
* As before stated (p. 18), the Rent Bank of the Kingdom of Saxony has already been applied to this important purpose.
fact, their outlay in this manner has exceeded in value the fee-simple of the estates."
I am deeply convinced that a system of Land-purchase Loans for occupying tenants in Ireland would promote the progress of agriculture, improve the relations of the classes interested in land, give an impulse to the general well-being of the entire population. Without legal security there can be no application of capital; without capital applied to land improvement no agricultural industry; and without such industry no peace in Ireland. No real peace, I mean; for surely we ought not to confound the symptoms with the disease, and suppose that the suppression of armed revolt, however needful, is equivalent to the establishment of confidence and genuine political tranquillity. Where the social basis for such confidence is wanting, it can only be created by needful reforms and suitable institutions. Permit me to quote the recent observation of a careful observer. The special correspondent of the Times remarks—"The conduct of the jurors and witnesses during the trials at the Special Commissions in Dublin, Cork, and Limerick, proves that the heart of society is not so unsound as might be supposed; and, with few exceptions, the classes who possess property might be relied on to discharge their duties to the Constitution fairly, and in a legal spirit." This statement is, doubtless, reassuring, but the qualifying limitation it contains is an essential condition of its truth and practical value. What proportion of the Irish population can, with justice, be ranked among the "classes who possess property?" In this essentially agricultural country, certainly a small proportion of the cultivators of the soil. Yet there is no sufficient reason why this should continue to be the case. Within the last twenty years landed property has been sold through the Incumbered and Landed Estates' Courts to the value of 40 millions sterling,
embracing about one-fifth of the land of Ireland. If during this period the purchase of farms by their occupiers had been facilitated by a system of Land-purchase Loans to occupying tenant-farmers analogous to the Rent-Banks, I think it is hardly too much to say that we should have heard nothing of Fenianism; at least we should have had no reason to dread its consequences. The earlier opportunity was lost, but the utility of this institution would still be very great. Five-sixths of the land of Ireland (much of it still heavily incumbered), remains unsold. Many properties also heretofore passed through the Incumbered and Landed Estates' Courts, will again be brought into the market, or disposed of by private sale. The moral and political value of such an institution would consist not merely in helping to create a new class of proprietors, but in diffusing a spirit of hope through the entire body of industrious tenant-farmers. The time seems opportune for considering a proposition which directly grasps the old Irish problem of "fixity of tenure;" offering a solution of it which, I venture to think, is accordant with sound principle and experience, and suited to the circumstances of Ireland.