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perpetrated by the Trades' Unions afford a sufficient proof: the murder of Mr. Ashton, in Cheshire, by two men who were hired by the Trades' Union and received ten pounds for killing him, is equal in atrocity to almost any Irish murder : and the rick-burnings in the south and east of England show how far a system of deliberate crime will spread when there is a real grievance to justify it.
Another evil effect of the Whiteboy system, as respects the character of the peasantry, is its liability to pass from a voluntary penal system with a limited and defined object, into an open insurrection, into a state of general licence and outrage (such as was described above, as having existed a few years ago in Clare), in which the people are exposed to the frightfully demoralizing influence of an absence of all temporal and legal sanctions: of all check except that derived from the fear of punishment in a future state. When it is considered how often the Irish peasant has been exposed to these periodical suspensions of government, it is more remarkable that his general morality should be so high as it is, than that it should not be higher.
Viewing the Whiteboy system in the light most favourable to the Whiteboys themselves; considering it (as we have just called it) to be a voluntary penal system, we must admit that, taken as a system of punishment it is one of the worst ever contrived by the head or executed by the hand of man. It is liable to all those objections which have been urged by enlightened reformers against the criminal law of different states. is unnecessarily severe in its penalties : it inflicts death in the most unsparing manner: it uses bad punishments, such as bodily mutilation : it punishes the in
nocent, as where it wounds a man through his relations : it strikes the weak and spares the strong: it is unequal; it is uncertain; it is capricious; it is vindictive. Moreover, it has a bad quality peculiar to itself, and shared by no legal penal system, not even in the rudest and most barbarous times, viz., the destruction of property which it occasions. Governments inflict pain by imprisonment or exile, but as the Whiteboys cannot imprison or banish, they inflict pain by injuring men's property. Hence their penal system is wasteful and expensive beyond any other, inasmuch as it ravages the country like an invading army. Mr. De la Cour, of the county of Cork, being asked whether the destruction of property had not been a great object in the disturbances, answers :
“ The destruction of property has been very considerable ; and upon that subject perhaps there is scarcely any better evidence than myself, because I have been the person to pay the amount of the several presentments which have been made as compensations for them in our country*.”
On the whole, the amount of evil inflicted is quite incommensurate with the good sought to be conferred by the system. Pain (to use Mr. Bentham's expression) has been wasted in the most lavish manner. Its effects are felt by the good as well as by the bad landlord; and they fall with their full weight on the head of the quiet and hardworking peasant.
“ Although an extensive perusal of the reports of the chief constables (says Lord Oxmantown, in a letter already quoted) will exhibit to you a picture of society, perhaps without parallel in any civilized country not in open insurrection, still it will convey but an inadequate idea of the sufferings of the indus
* H. C., 1825, p. 553.
trious peasantry in this state of anarchy. To be enabled to judge of it, you must make your inquiries on the spot; you must hear the tale from themselves. Living in a state of perpetual anxiety, their lives are wretched indeed. Under such circumstances can we wonder at the statement of the magistrates assembled at Belmont sessions, to the effect that numbers of the respectable peasantry were seeking refuge from this state of things in America.” “It would be right (he also says) that the utmost attention should be paid to patrolling, were it only for the purpose of showing to the peaceable inhabitants of a disturbed district that the country was not in undisputed possession of these armed gangs. Any measure calculated to give them confidence must be most valuable. No one can form an adequate conception of their apprehensions, and the amount of positive misery arising from it, who has not conversed with them himself. While the outrages, numerous as they are, affect but a limited portion of the population, the evil I have alluded to extends to all*."
The state of apprehension among the peasantry lest they should be visited by the Whiteboys, however miserable, is less painful than that which prevails among the guilty, when nearly the whole population has been implicated, and the reign of the law is restored. Even the habitual hatred of an informer is then scarcely strong enough to repress the disposition to purchase safety by becoming a witness for
“ My Lords, (says the Attorney-General in addressing the court, at the close of the Clare Special Commission, the first and almost the immediate effect of these convictions was to scatter distrust over every part of the illegal associations that overran the country-every man, conscious of his own guilt, and knowing it to be in the power of his associates to betray him, is kept
Papers relating to the State of Ireland, 1834, p. 19, 20.
in a state of perpetual alarm and fear. There is scarcely a guilty man in the county of Clare, who is not deliberating whether he will not inform on his guilty associates--whether he will not run a race with them, and combine to be the first to give evidence to the Crown. The consequence of this state of distrust and fear is, that multitudes desert their houses and ordinary occupations, and skulk about the country, scarcely daring to appear by day, or to sleep under a roof by night. This, as I am informed, is the condition of a large portion of the population of this country. It is the natural consequence of crime, which, if persevered in, must involve them in ruin. Recollect how often has it been said in this court, that no man could trust with safety to his associate in guilt. This is now felt and acknowledged universally.—Two days ago, we saw this truth exemplified on that table. Men who had been united by what was deemed the strongest of all possible ties-men associated in crime, and bound to go hand in hand in the work of spoliation and murder, we saw coming forward, and to save their own lives, without hesitation or compulsion, giving evidence against their guilty associates. After this, am I not right in saying, that as certainly as such men trust each other, so surely will they be betrayed. You are not aware, but it is the fact, (I shudder when I speak of it,) that I could have indicted a brother on the testimony of a brother, who was ready to give that testimony, in order to save his own life. This could have been done, but it would have outraged the laws of nature and humanity, and I, therefore, spurned the man who thus volunteered to take away the life of his own brother. But when we find a brother willing to violate the strongest ties of nature and affection—when we find such ties yield to the love of life-let me ask, if a brother cannot be trusted, who can *?"
It may indeed be thought a waste of words to dwell on the evil effects of a system, which not only exists in
* Limerick and Clare Special Commission, pp. 216, 217.
defiance of the law, but is intended to supersede and overbear the law, and which is carried on by means of the most atrocious outrages. But illegal systems may exist and Aourish, which do not, like Whiteboyism, affect the whole frame and composition of society. For example, smuggling is an illegal system, supported by violence, constantly rising up against the attempts of government to suppress it, and necessitating the maintenance of a separate military and naval establishment in order to contend with it. But smuggling might exist, and even in a considerable degree, for centuries, without producing worse effects than the loss of a certain portion of revenue, and the demoralizing of a certain small number of persons on the coasts, where the illicit traffic prevails. With Whiteboyism, however, it is far otherwise. This system pervades the whole society; it sets the rich against the poor, it sets the poor against the rich ; it constantly actuates the whole agricultural population in their most ordinary dealings; it causes sleepless nights and anxious days to those who do not individually feel the weight of its vengeance. It is not the banding together of a few outcasts, who betake themselves to illegal courses, and prey on the rest of the community; but the deliberate association of the peasantry, seeking by cruel outrage to insure themselves against the risk of utter destitution and abandonment. Its influence, therefore, even when unseen, is general: it is, in fact, the mould into which Irish society is cast; the expression of the wants and feelings of the great mass of the community. So far as it is successful, it is an abrogation of the existing law, and an abolition of the existing govern