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A Lawyer’s Objections To Home Rule
by [?]

Those have misunderstood me who suppose that I draw from the success of the anti-rent movement in this State between 1839 and 1846 an inference against “all attempts to enforce an unpopular law.” Such was not by any means my object. What I sought to show by the history of this movement was that there was nothing peculiar or inexplicable in the hostility to rent-paying in Ireland. The rights of the New York landlords were as good in law and morals as the rights of the Irish landlords, and their mode of asserting them far superior. Moreover, those who resisted them were not men of a different race, religion, or nationality, and had, as Mr. Dicey says, “none of the excuses that can be urged in extenuation of half-starved tenants.” Their mode of setting the law at defiance was exactly similar to that adopted by the Irish, and it was persisted in for a period of ten years, or until they had secured a substantial victory. The history of the anti-rent agitation in New York also illustrates strikingly, as it seems to me, the perspicacity of a remark made, in substance, long ago by Mr. Disraeli, which, in my eyes at least, threw a great deal of light on the Irish problem, namely, that Ireland was suffering from suppressed revolution. As Mr. Dicey says, “The crises called revolutions are the ultimate and desperate cures for the fundamental disorganization of society. The issue of a revolutionary struggle shows what is the true sovereign power in the revolutionized state. So strong is the interest of mankind, at least in any European country, in favour of some sort of settled rule, that civil disturbance will, if left to itself, in general end in the supremacy of some power which by securing the safety at last gains the attachment of the people. The Reign of Terror begets the Empire; even wars of religion at last produce peace, albeit peace may be nothing better than the iron uniformity of despotism. Could Ireland have been left for any lengthened period to herself, some form of rule adapted to the needs of the country would in all probability have been established. Whether Protestants or Catholics would have been the predominant element in the State; whether the landlords would have held their own, or whether the English system of tenure would long ago have made way for one more in conformity with native traditions; whether hostile classes and races would at last have established some modus vivendi favourable to individual freedom, or whether despotism under some of its various forms would have been sanctioned by the acquiescence of its subjects, are matters of uncertain speculation. A conclusion which, though speculative, is far less uncertain, is that Ireland, if left absolutely to herself, would have arrived, like every other country, at some lasting settlement of her difficulties” (p. 87). That is to say, that in Ireland as in New York the attempt to enforce unpopular land laws would have been abandoned, had local self-government existed. For “revolution” is, after all, only a fine name for the failure or refusal of the rulers of a country to persist in executing laws which the bulk of the population find obnoxious. When the popular hostility to the law is strong enough to make its execution impossible, as it was in New York in the rent affair, it is accepted as the respectable solution of a very troublesome problem. When, as in Ireland, it is strong enough to produce turbulence and disorder, but not strong enough to tire out and overcome the authorities, it simply ruins the political manners of the people. If the Irish landlords had had from the beginning to face the tenants single-handed and either hold them down by superior physical force, or come to terms with them as the New York landlords had to do, conditions of peace and good will would have assuredly been discovered long ago. The land question, in other words, would have been adjusted in accordance with “Irish ideas,” that is, in some way satisfactory to the tenants. The very memory of the conflict would probably by this time have died out, and the two classes would be living in harmony on the common soil. If in New York, on the other hand, the Van Rensselaers and Livingstons had been able to secure the aid of martial law and of the Federal troops in asserting their claims, and in preventing local opinion having any influence whatever on the settlement of the dispute, there can be no doubt that a large portion of this State would to-day be as poor and as savage, and apparently as little fitted for the serious business of government, as the greater part of Ireland is.