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THE CHURCH SYSTEM OF
IRELAND AND CANADA.
Reprinted from the " Westminster Review” of the 1st April 1868.
So paramount is the importance of the Irish ques
tion that no apology is needed for keeping it constantly before the public mind; rather is it a positive duty to do so until a satisfactory solution has been obtained ; for the welfare alike of Ireland and of England is involved in the issue.
The question itself embraces two subjects closely connected with each other—the land and the Church. It is the latter which will be specially dealt with in this paper.
When the justice and expediency of maintaining intact the Protestant State Church in Ireland are called in question, its supporters are fond of reminding their opponents that the great majority of Irish landlords are members of the Established Church. This fact at once provokes the question, How is it that, while the great mass of Ireland's people are Roman Catholic, the great majority of her landed proprietors are Protestant? In no other country is
to be seen a like strange phenomenon. Presbyterian Scotland, Roman Catholic France, Lutheran Prussia, Protestant England, present no such abnormal condition of things. Whence, then, does it spring in Ireland? One word, pregnant with innumerable ills, goes far to solve the problem-Confiscation. Lord Clare, the Irish Lord Chancellor at the time of the Union in 1801, said: “So the whole island has been confiscated, with the exception of the estates of five or six families of English blood, some of whom had been attainted in the reign of Henry VIII., but recovered their possessions before Tyrone's rebellion, and had the good fortune to escape the pillage of the English republic inflicted by Cromwell; and no inconsiderable portion of the island has been confiscated twice, or perhaps thrice, in the course of a century.” So again, a very different authority, Mr J. S. Mill, writes :" According to a well-known computation, the whole land of the island has been confiscated three times over. Part had been taken to enrich Englishmen and their Irish adherents; part to form the endowment of a hostile hierarchy; the rest had been given away to English and Scotch colonists, who held, and were intended to hold it, as a garrison against Ireland.” This evil work was further aided by that penal code which oppressed Irish Roman Catholics up to nearly the close of the eighteenth century. It enacted, amongst other things, that no member of the Church of Rome could take or transfer lands by devise, descent, or purchase; that he could not dispose of his estate by will, or lend money on the security of land. A child, conforming to the established religion, might force his parent to surrender his estate, under a fair allowance. A younger brother might deprive the elder brother of the legal rights conferred by primogeniture.
With such causes to account for the fact, (without parallel in Europe), that while the great majority of landed proprietors in Ireland are of one faith, the great majority of her people are of another, common prudence (if no higher principle) would have suggested the wisdom of not adducing that anomalous condition, in order to justify the maintenance of the Church of the small minority as the State Establishment of the whole country. One would have thought that the defenders of the Anglican hierarchy in the sister island would have avoided using an argument which, when examined, is proved to rest upon a fact originating in the cruel wrongs of past times—wrongs which now meet with universal condemnation. To right them completely and fully to-day is unhappily impossible; but assuredly that is no reason for bringing them forward in order to prop up an unequal system which it lies within our power to abolish. The merest expediency and the highest principle alike forbid the folly which vainly seeks to justify the crying anomalies of the present by appealing to the yet more crying wrongs of the past.
But without dwelling further upon this aspect of the subject, let the Irish State Church, as it actually exists, be now briefly yet carefully examined. Since the Commutation Act was passed, (1832,) the taking a tenth of the cultivator's produce, the seizing for payment his only cow or pig, by way of collecting tithe dues, has been done away. The ills produced by such a mode of proceeding became too aggravated to allow of its continuance. The tithes are now only recoverable from the head landlord. He
He pays them out of the rent he receives from his land, upon which they are a first charge. Inasmuch, however, as the -rent is derived from the labour of the occupier who cultivates the soil, that labour evidently contributes largely and directly to the payment of the tithes. This mode of collecting them, under the Commutation Act, is certainly better than the old system of levying them by the seizure of the cultivator's produce or stock: but, however ameliorated the form, the cultivator of the soil still bears his full share of the payment. Nothing can alter the fact that all charges upon land press upon both tenant and landlord. Now, in Ireland the great majority of actual cultivators or tenants are Roman Catholics, who are thus obliged to contribute directly to the support of the Protestant establishment; so that the injustice remains of obliging by law the members of the Roman Communion to pay for the Anglican Church. Again, it is urged that as both he who owns the land and he who cultivates it knew of this tithecharge when they became owners or cultivators, neither of them have a right to complain. Such an assertion is a very exaggerated statement of the case. What may fairly be said is, that being aware of the existence of such a charge on land, they have no
right to refuse its payment as long as the law demands it of them ; but they have a perfect right, if they think such an arrangement tainted with injustice, to use every constitutional means for obtaining a change of the law. That persons buy or lease under such conditions does not by any means necessarily prove that they think such conditions exactly what they ought to be; all it really proves is, that such persons are so desirous of becoming owners and cultivators that even those amongst them who contend that the obligation to pay tithes is unjust, prefer doing so rather than cut themselves off from the land. But such compliance with the existing law by no means invalidates their right to get rid, by constitutional means, of the obligation which they deem unjust. This becomes clearer still if a similar case, though under different circumstances, be imagined. Suppose the legislature, having imposed a five per cent income tax on its subjects, further enacted that all persons with blue eyes should pay an additional one per cent, thus making the tax in their case six
Doubtless every blue-eyed person who, after the enactment, continued to reside in the country and derive his income from it, would be legally and morally bound to pay the extra one per cent; but that would by no means deprive him of his right of using all legitimate means for the repeal of the enactment in question. A blue-eyed person would not, by continuing to reside in the country, prove that he thought the extra tax reasonable; the fact of continued residence would prove nothing more