The State and the Ruling Class: An Anthology of Key Works of Libertarian/Classical Liberal Class Analysis

Compiled by David M. Hart
Table of Contents of the Anthology: <>

[Created: 16 August, 2016]
[Updated: 7 January, 2017 ]


Beaumont, "A bad Aristocracy is the primary cause of all the evils of Ireland" (1839)

Editing History

  • Item added: 14 Oct. 2016
  • 1st Edit:


Gustave de Beaumont, Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, ed. W. C. Taylor (London: Richard Bentley, 1839). 2 vols.

  • Volume I. Section entitled Ireland, Social, Political, Religious.
    • Chapter II. A bad Aristocracy is the primary cause of all the evils of Ireland. The faults of the Aristocracy are, that it is English and Protestant (selections) <>

Editor's Intro




We have just seen how wretched is the condition of Ireland. The first anxiety felt at the aspect of such misery is to discover its cause; and this anxiety is the greater, because, in order to remedy an evil, it is necessary to know its origin and nature.

Let us begin, then, by declaring the cause of the ill; we shall afterwards seek the remedy.

It is impossible to observe Ireland attentively, to study its history and its revolutions, to consider its habits, and analyse its laws, without recognising that its misfortunes, to which so many sad accidents and fatal circumstances have contributed, had, and still have, one principal cause,—a cause primary, permanent, radical, which predominates over all others,—and this cause is a bad aristocracy.

All aristocracies founded on conquest and on inequality, doubtless contain many inherent vices, but all do not possess the same, nor in equal number.

Suppose conquerors, who, after the first convulsions of the conquest, were fast endeavouring to efface the memory of it, by mingling with the conquered people, assuming their language, adopting a portion of their habits, appropriating to themselves most of their laws, and practising the same forms of religious worship; suppose that these conquerors, formed into a feudal society, having to struggle against powerful and tyrannical kings, sought an auxiliary in the conquered population; and that afterwards, united by the bonds of mutual interest, the conquerors and conquered blended their cause in struggling against the common enemy; suppose that these struggles lasted during several centuries, and that the lords in their quarrels with the kings never failed to make stipulations in favour of the rights of the people whenever they conquered privileges for themselves; finally, suppose that these conquerors, after having thrown the violence of the conquest into oblivion by a rapid fusion with the vanquished, continually laboured to redeem the injustice of their privileges by the benefits of patronage; that, superior in rank, wealth, and political power, they incessantly showed themselves equally superior in talents and virtue; that taking in hand the affairs of the people, they mingled in all their assemblies, discussed all their interests, directed all their enterprises, sacrificed half their revenues to banish poverty from their domains, gave instruction to one, capital to another, enlightened, charitable, and benevolent support to all;—that, placed at the head of a commercial society, they admirably comprehended genius and its requirements, gave it, with the freedom of industry, all the civil and political liberties which are the soul of that freedom; and in order to procure for that society a magnificent destiny, they opened for it the markets of the entire world, established for it flourishing colonies, founded for it colossal empires in India, rendered its vessels sovereign on every sea, and made the nations of the earth its tributaries; and that, finally, after having opened all the paths of fortune to commercial industry, these same men, throwing down the barrier which separated them from the prolétaire, should say to the latter, “Get rich, and you may become a lord:” without doubt, such an aristocracy may conceal within itself many germs of oppression, and more than one principle of ruin; still it is easy to comprehend how such an aristocracy may for a long time maintain itself in strength and prosperity, and that even succeeding to a conquest, and charged with all the injustice of feudal privilege, it may give to the country it holds under its sway the illusion, if not the absolute reality, of a just and national government. It is easy to conceive the long and brilliant rule of the English aristocracy.

Suppose, on the contrary, conquerors who, instead of arresting the violent outrages of conquest, should lend all their efforts to the perpetuation of them—should open a hundred times the wounds of the conquered country—instead of uniting with the vanquished, should force them to keep separate—refuse to adopt their laws or impart their own—suppose this conquering race to preserve its language, its habits, and to erect an insurmountable barrier between itself and its subjects, by declaring it a kind of high treason to celebrate a marriage between the descendants of the victors and the offspring of the vanquished; suppose that having been thus constituted in the face of the conquered people, as a faction distinct by race and power, the conquerors are still further separated by a deeper cause, difference of religion; that not content with having deprived a people of national existence, they should endeavour to wrest from it its creed;—that having spent centuries in despoiling it of its political independence, they should pass a second series of centuries in disputing its religious faith; suppose that these conquerors, political tyrants, despising the conquered nation because of its race, hating it because of its creed, should be placed in such an extraordinary position that it has no interest in the protection of the people, and no peril in their oppression;—it may well be conceived, that an aristocracy composed of such elements could only produce selfishness, violence, and injustice on one side—hatred, resistance, degradation, and misery on the other. Such is the picture of the aristocracy of Ireland.

The English aristocracy, clever and national as it is, would not perhaps have been able to maintain itself, if, while it concealed its defects by splendid virtues, it had not been protected by fortunate accidents.

Subject like all aristocracies, whose principle is privilege to employ its strength for the promotion of selfish interests, it has carried to excess the resources by which it is supported, and disproportionately concentrated in its hands the property of the soil, which has become the monopoly of a very small number; the landed proprietors of England form so small a minority compared to the non-proprietors, that landed property might be placed in peril, if it were a desirable object in the eyes of the people.

But, by a fortunate event rather than any result of wise policy, the soil of England has not hitherto excited the envy of the lower classes; the English people leaves its aristocracy the monopoly of the land, so long as it resigns to them the monopoly of industry. The immense estates of a peer excite no unpleasant feeling in the mind of a merchant to whom the commerce of the whole world presents an unlimited arena, and who thinks that if he makes a great fortune, he may perhaps some day obtain the estates of a lord with the title and honours.

The English agriculturist cares little about a political system whose effect is to drive the peasantry from the country into the towns, when this labourer, removed from the soil, finds in the factory equally regular work, and much better pay. This, we must confess, is the great guarantee of the English aristocracy, a frail and feeble guarantee, which will only last so long as English industry will supply the world with its products.

The Irish aristocracy, full of defects from which that of England is free, far from being aided like it by favourable circumstances, has to struggle against pernicious accidents.

It is a fatal chance for the Irish aristocracy that has placed Ireland in such close proximity to England; for this aristocracy has never ceased to be English in heart and almost in interest. Here is the cause why the aristocracy has always resided, and at the present day resides, more in England than in Ireland; and this material fact, which most frequently divides it from the people subjected to its sway, is in its case the source of the evil most fatal to every aristocracy, which really exists only on the condition of governing. It is common to hear all the evils of Ireland attributed to absenteeism, but this is to mistake a consequence of the evil for the evil itself. The aristocracy of Ireland is not bad because it is absentee; it is absentee because it is bad, because nothing attaches it to the country, because it is retained there by no sympathy. Why should it, loving neither the country nor the people, remain in Ireland, when it has England near, inviting it by the charms of more elegant and refined society, which attract it back to its original country?

In general, every aristocracy contains within itself the corrective which tempers, if it does not arrest, its aberrations and its selfishness. It usually happens, that the very class which does not love the people fears them, or at least has need of them; it then performs from calculation what it would not do from sympathy, It does not oppress too far, through fear of revolt; it spares the national strength from which it derives profit; it may even happen that it appears generous when it is only clear-sighted and interested.

The Irish aristocracy has always had the misfortune of fearing nothing, and hoping nothing, from the people subject to its yoke; supported by England, whose soldiers have always been placed at its disposal, it has been enabled to give itself up to tyranny without reserve: the groans, the complaints, the menaces of the people have never tempered its oppressions, because popular clamour had for it no terrors. Did insurrections break forth in Ireland? The aristocracy of the country never stirred; it was English artillery that subdued the insurgents; and when everything was restored to order, the aristocracy continued to receive the revenue of its lands as before.

The Irish aristocracy has exercised an empire of which no other country furnishes an example; during six centuries it has reigned in Ireland, under the authority of England, which abandoned to that body half the advantages of its dominion, and spared it all the expense. Furnished with rights, privileges, and constitutional guarantees, it has employed all these instruments of freedom to practise oppression; Ireland has thus been constantly the prey of two tyrannies, the more dangerous as they mutually protected each other. The Irish aristocracy, regarding itself as the agent of England, for that reason granted itself absolution for all its excesses and all its personal injustice; and England, whose rights this aristocracy exercised, was contented to throw upon that body the blame of any abuse of its power.

There are few countries in which the governors have not an interest, greater or less, in inducing the people subject to their laws to cultivate the arts of industry and commerce. Of what use, in fact, would large revenues be to the rich man, unless they served to obtain the objects fit to render his life pleasant and comfortable? And how could he procure them if the people did not work? But it is an additional fatality of the Irish aristocracy that it is abundantly supplied with all the most precious productions of art and commerce, though no industrial employment exists in Ireland; it has ready to its hand the products of English industry to satisfy its wants and caprices, as well as armed regiments to ensure the payment of its rents. In order to possess comfort and elegance, it has no need of exciting the people to industrial labour. Commerce and industry are, nevertheless, the means by which the lower classes may escape from their misery. Thus, the people of Ireland, to whom the land is inaccessible, see in the hands of the aristocracy an immense privilege for which they possess no equivalent. Thus the asistocracy of Ireland, deficient in all the primary bases on which that of England rests, is also deprived of that condition of existence without which probably the English aristocracy could not sustain itself. It is immovable and closed. As a principle, its ranks are open to all, but, in fact, access to them is nearly impossible; to enter them, it is necessary to become rich; but what means are there of becoming rich in a country where commerce and industry are dead? So that this aristocracy, motionless in its wealth, living on the life of others, has for its support a population also motionless in its misery: in Ireland, poverty is a caste. Finally, this aristocracy, attached by no natural sentiment to the people, has the misfortune to be further removed from it by difference of creed.

Religious sympathy is, beyond contradiction, the most powerful tie that unites men together; it has not only the power of bringing nations together, but, what is still more difficult, of mingling classes and ranks, raising the most humble to the level of the most proud, mingling the rich and the poor; it is religion that invests alms with the dignity of christian charity, and which, stripping the benefit of its pride, renders the bestower and the recipient both equal. But, in the absence of religious sympathy, what is there to unite the rich and the poor, the Englishman and the Irishman, the race of the conquerors and that of the vanquished? What power shall bring them together when religion herself separates them? And in a country where all the laws are made against the poor for the profit of the rich, what will be the result if religion, instead of checking the powerful, actually fortifies it, and, instead of supporting the feeble, crushes him to the earth?

The Irish aristocracy has two inherent vices, which include all others; it is English by origin, and has never ceased to be thus alien: it became Protestant, and has had to govern a people that remained Catholic.

These two vices contain the principle of all the evils of Ireland; in them are the key to all its miseries, and all its embarrassments: if this starting point be attentively considered, all the extraordinary circumstances, whose causes will be vainly sought elsewhere, will be found to flow from it as natural consequences. These consequences are of three sorts; the first, which we may call civil, because they relate to habits and manners; the second political, because they concern institutions; the third religious, because they arise from difference of creeds. The first more especially affect the relations between rich and poor, between landlord and tenant; the second, the reciprocal relations between the governors and the governed; and the third, the mutual position of Catholics and Protestants.

[Cut Section I on "Civil Consequences"]


But it is especially in the political institutions of Ireland that we incessantly discover traces of the fatal principle which has vitiated the aristocracy of that country.

Those who imagine that they can explain all the evils of Ireland by the despotism of England, fall into a great error, for this absolute despotism has never existed.

We have seen, in the Historical Introduction, how the conquerors of Ireland, having established a feudal society in the country, the only one of which men hadany notion in those times, this society, by the mere fact of its institution, found itself in possession of rights, privileges, and franchises which England could not dispute.

We have seen how, after the conquest of Ireland, the English, wishing to introduce the reformed religion into the country, founded there a Protestant society, to which England could still less refuse the civil and political liberties already enjoyed by the feudal society.

Finally, we have seen how the native Irish, at first as a vanquished people, and afterwards as Catholics, were excluded from the benefit of these institutions; in what manner this exclusion ceased, and how at present the laws of the country recognise no inequality founded on race or creed.

Dependent, then, as Ireland is upon England, she has always possessed her own free institutions.

It would be a great error to look upon Ireland as making with England one and the same people, subject to the same government and the same laws. We have seen, in the same Introduction, that Ireland has always had her own government and peculiar laws. Thus, Ireland not only possesses free institutions, but, though united to England, she has still her own peculiar institutions. These free and distinct institutions which Ireland preserves, seem exactly modelled from those of England.

Like England, Ireland is in possession of all the essential rights on which the civil and political liberties of nations rest, such as trial by jury, independence of the judges, responsibility of public functionaries, the right of petition, the right of union and association, individual liberty, freedom of the press, and such like.1

In both countries the organisation of the different political powers presents, at least externally, a perfectly similar though distinct aspect.

The supreme authority, which in England is vested in the sovereign, is in Ireland entrusted to the viceroy.

The government of which the viceroy is chief, employs in its executive similar instruments to those used by the English government.2 With both nations there are connected with the central power four supreme courts of justice, which are, as it were, the soul and source of public power in countries where justice and administration are perpetually confounded; these are the courts of Chancery, Queen’s Bench, Exchequer, and Common Pleas.

Both countries are equally divided into counties, over which the state preserves rather than exercises its sovereignty: and in both, the agents by which the central power displays its authority are the same. The principal representatives of the state in an Irish county are the lord lieutenant, the sheriff, and the justice of the peace.

In Ireland, as in England, there are within the state, but independent of the counties, a certain number of incorporated cities or boroughs which do not depend on the central government for their administration, because they have received the privilege of self-government: these are called municipal corporations.

Finally, in both countries, we find at the base of the powers already mentioned, that of the parish; a power sovereign in its sphere, independent of all the rest, and which, in both nations, presents the same external structure.3

Not only is the political edifice, which appears to view, the same in England as in Ireland, but furthermore, the authorities are instituted on the same basis; they bear the same names; all are theoretically created for the same object; they exercise their power according to the same laws; they are nominally subject to the same rules, and restricted by the same limits. And in both countries, the aristocracy is the fundamental principle of all public power.

Whence, then, does it arise, that, with similar institutions, the two nations have had such different fortunes, and that one has fallen into a state of abasement and misery, with a form of government which has placed and kept the other at the summit of greatness and prosperity?

It is because that, though the form is important in political institutions, the spirit is still more important. Now the institutions of Ireland present to the eye the same body as those of England; what is wanting is the soul. The Protestant aristocracy, which in England is the very heart of all political powers, seems in Ireland to be their cancer.

Let any person examine the government of Ireland in all its parts successively, in the state, the county, the municipal corporation, and the parish, and he will find that the same original and permanent vice which corrupts civil society, carries the same corruption into political society; he will find that the same causes which poison the relations between rich and poor, landlord and tenant, do not less materially affect the mutual relations of the governors and the governed.

Subsection I.—: The State.

Influence of the English and Protestant Aristocratic principle on the Powers of the State—Hatred of the People to the Laws—A public accuser in Ireland—The unanimity of the Jury in Ireland—Why Ireland has several official Institutions not found in England.

The Irish viceroy endeavours to reproduce the image of royalty; he holds a brilliant court in Dublin, the etiquette of which is regulated by that of London; he has two palaces, a splendid staff, and his salary, with the allowances, is about 30,000l. annually.1

The viceroy of Ireland, like the sovereign of England, has a privy council; he nominates to all the public offices, which in England are in the gift of the sovereign; he has the same right of pardoning or commuting punishment; and he is equally invested with the singular power of suspending the law, under certain grave circumstances, at his discretion, for which he is responsible only to parliament.2 The Irish viceroy possesses also some extraordinary powers which the sovereign has not in England, but which the peculiar circumstances of Ireland have rendered necessary to its first magistrate.3

Until 1800, Ireland had its own parliament, consisting of hereditary lords and elected commons; for it never enters into any Englishman’s head that any human law could be framed unless by two houses, of which one should be called Commons, and the other Lords.

The legislative power of Ireland was, therefore, composed of three powers designed to balance each other, as in the English constitution. But is not the fundamental error of such an organisation, applied to Ireland, at once apparent? Is it not manifest, that these powers, instead of controlling, would mutually support each other, and that their harmony would not be a union of rival powers, but that of accomplices banded together for a single and common object, the enslavement of the people? In the days of the Tudors, the parliament did what the viceroy pleased; after William III., the viceroy did what the parliament pleased. England had full confidence in the aristocracy of Ireland, and entrusted to it the entire government of the country. It might then be said, that the laws were made in full freedom by the two parliamentary bodies that represented Ireland, but who does not immediately see that such a system of representation was a falsehood?

Who does not at once comprehend the spirit in which laws were made by those lords who, English and Protestant by birth, were the natural enemies of Catholic Ireland; and by this house of commons, which, not less English and Protestant at heart, was in reality a mere creature of the lords, though it was presumed to be elected by the people?

No one could sit in either house, unless he gave proof of his “having taken the Lord’s supper,” according to the Anglican ritual. Could such a parliament, framing laws for a Catholic country, be anything else but the representative of a faction; a mere instrument to maintain the power of a narrow oligarchy, and furnish it with constitutional means of practising oppression?

Having once established this starting point, need we be surprised that the Irish legislature, during the entire course of its long existence, cruelly tyrannised over the country, formed a selfish compact with England, of which poor Ireland paid all the costs; abandoned to England the political and commercial liberties of Ireland, on condition of being maintained in its own domination over the Catholics; subjected the people that it governed to an anti-social code, the cruel and ingenious system of which has been exposed in the Introduction; and finally, by a course of falsehood and blunders, went so far as to proclaim that there were legally “no Papists in Ireland;” in other words, that a nation was blotted from existence! The Irish aristocracy terminated its parliamentary career by an act which pictures its entire life.

One day,4 England came to the resolution that it was bad for Ireland to have its own parliament, deeming it better that the country should be ruled by laws emanating directly from herself; she therefore resolved to abolish the Irish parliament; but how was this to be accomplished? Ireland possessed the right of making laws, and who could take this right away? At the instant of the proposal, all Ireland was in movement; the parliament of Ireland was anti-national, but the right to have a parliament was a national right.5 The aristocracy itself, usually so obedient to the English government, turned restive; for it was about to be deprived of its power of giving law to Ireland.

The difficulty was great, and yet it was easily overcome. The self-same aristocracy, which at the outset disputed with England the right of taking away its privileges, suddenly abandoned them; and, in a short time after it protested against the attempt upon its life, the Irish parliament put an end to its own existence. Why did it commit this suicide? The explanation is simple; the principal parliamentary undertakers, the chiefs of parties, sold their privileges to England for the sum of 1,260,000l. paid down in hard cash, and renounced their parliamentary prerogatives. After all, what cared they for the legislative independence of Ireland, which was never their real country? Besides, the existence of an Irish parliament was not exempt from annoyance. Did it not oblige them every year to spend at least a few months in Ireland? After the union, they would no longer be burdened by this charge; some became peers of England, others members of the British house of commons; all could pass their lives in London, all be delivered from Ireland. They then renounced their rights for the stipulated price; an infamous bargain, in which the corruption of those who bought was surpassed by the baseness of those who sold themselves; a worthy end of a parliament which, during the course of its existence, was rarely independent, almost always servile, never national; and which, when condemned to perish, disposed of its carcass like a criminal selling his body for dissection.6 It was this bargain which brought about the legislative union between England and Ireland, in the opening of the present century.

Since that time, Ireland has had no parliament, but we must not conclude that she has no parliamentary representation. By the articles of union, a part of her lords sit in the English house of peers;7 and the counties, cities, and boroughs of Ireland elect members to the British house of commons;8 these members are elected by the people, according to a system nearly the same as that of England;9 and under which the Irish aristocracy formerly exercised considerable influence over the elections; but this influence, though it has not quite ceased, has been greatly weakened.

Thus, for the last forty years, the Irish aristocracy has ceased to give laws to Ireland, and this is one evil the less, no doubt; but nearly all the laws which were the work of that aristocracy still exist; and if it no longer makes the laws, it still retains their administration.

We have seen, in the Historical Introduction, that the act of union had no other effect than to abolish the Irish parliament, and confer its legislative privileges on the British parliament, which has not only continued the ancient peculiar institutions of Ireland, but has continued to give the country special laws, adapted to these institutions, though analogous to the laws of England. Thus the legislative power of Ireland has been displaced, but no change has been made in the mode of administering the laws.

Of all the general interests with which the state is charged, there is doubtless none more important than the judicial administration; let us take this as an example of the influence produced on government in Ireland by the radical defects of the aristocracy.

The judicial organisation of Ireland is precisely the same as that of England.

The four supreme courts are quite independent of those of England; they are the sovereign guardians of individual liberty, which is placed in their hands by the habeas corpus act; their jurisdiction has the same extent, they administer justice by the same rules, their independence is secured by the same guarantees, for the judges of Ireland, like those of England, are irremovable.

As in England, the Irish judges go circuit to assizes twice a year; the juries are impanelled, and the verdict given strictly in the English form. In Ireland as in England, besides the periodical administration of justice, there is a daily kind which may be called local, though administered by justices of the peace who derive their authority in England from the sovereign, and in Ireland from the viceroy.

But though the most perfect similarity exists between the magistracy charged with the administration of justice in the two countries, still the execution of this justice is very different in the two countries.

Criminal law in England is doubtless not free from faults; it has even preserved some feudal traditions which might be deemed barbarous by a superficial observer. Thus, in certain cases, the prisoner cannot be defended by counsel;10 and he cannot, even by payment, obtain copies of the informations, which the crown-lawyers may use at their pleasure. Finally, the evidence of approvers is admitted against the accomplices of their guilt. These laws are certainly rigorous, and yet, in England, the administration of criminal law displays nothing painful to the friend of humanity; in that country, mild habits correct severe laws; every accused finds in the magistrates, if not benevolence, at least unalterable impartiality. Feelings of equity, and sometimes of indulgence, animate all those who are engaged in the administration of English law; they guide the justices of peace when taking informations; they guide the sheriff in his selection of a jury; they inspire the depositions of the witness, the verdict of the jury, the sentence of the judge, the pardon of the sovereign.

See, on the other hand, the condition of the accused in Ireland. Suppose an unfortunate Irish Cathelic arrested, not for a political crime which might provoke magisterial indignation, but for some ordinary offence,—theft for instance. He is brought before the nearest Protestant magistrate,11 a man of English descent, full of contempt and hatred for the poorer classes of Irish. Now can you suppose that this justice of peace, before whom the poor Irishman is dragged, will examine the proofs of innocence as carefully as the indications of guilt? Do you think, that if the prisoner offers bail, the justice will be as ready to accept it as if the accused were a Protestant? Still the investigation is continued; it depends on the justice of peace whether it shall be fast or slow; but how can he show any anxiety to accelerate it, when he is influenced by no sympathy; when, performing gratuitous functions, he is not interested in displaying zeal; when, on the other hand, not being subject to the superintendence of a superior, he has neither praise to hope, nor censure to fear, for his conduct? It may be conceived, that in such a situation, not stimulated by the consciousness of public duties, and surrounded by absorbing private interests, he will forget what is due to the Papist, who, after all, will be safer under lock and key. In truth, the inquiry, retarded by this negligence, will not be ready at the assizes or quarter-sessions; the affair will be put off for three, or perhaps six months, and the accused must remain all that time in prison, awaiting his trial.12

That day at length comes. A hundred or a hundred and fifty jurors have been summoned by the sheriff; but, in the first place, with very few exceptions, the Protestant sheriff has chosen Protestant jurymen. Out of the hundred, twelve are to be chosen to administer the law—the panel is called—scarcely is the name of a Catholic juror pronounced when he is peremptorily set aside by the clerk of the crown.13 The accused is given in charge to twelve Protestant jurors, for the most part rich persons, equally the enemies of his class and his creed. Now what impartiality can he expect, who perceives in every one of his judges a religious or political adversary? Who can believe that such judges would be animated by the pure love of truth, which is the very first condition of justice? And moreover, how many strange obstacles beset the judge in the trial over which he presides! Frequently in Ireland the accused, being of Celtic race, speaks a language which neither the judge nor the jury, being of English race, can comprehend; hence the necessity of employing an interpreter, who translates to the judge the words of the prisoner, and to the prisoner those of the judge; here consequently is a prime source of confusion. This is not all—as every accused person in Ireland is looked upon as a victim by the people of his class, that is to say, the lower orders, false witnesses abound, and hence a new source of error is opened to the judge and jury. In the midst of this darkness it would be difficult, even with the best inclinations, to be strictly just. How then will matters stand when love of justice is not the predominant passion? For my part, I have been present at many criminal trials in Ireland, and it is impossible to describe the painful feelings with which such a spectacle filled my mind.

It is a sad truth, that, in every Irish court of justice, there are, as it were, two hostile encampments within sight of each other; the accused on one side, the judge and jury on the other. Amongst the spectators, the people is for the accused; the tribunal is supported by the soldiers, the constables, and the wealthy. As, in Ireland, the aristocracy is engaged in an open contest with the people, all that depends on the aristocracy, or sympathises with it, comes to support it on this terrible field of battle, where the strong exterminate the weak in the name of justice and the laws. The prejudices and malevolent passions of which the accused is the object, are displayed on every side; they may be heard in the accent of the judge, seen in the emotions as well as the passiveness of the jury; the very language of the counsel for the defence reveals them. It is difficult to form an idea of the tone of contempt and insolence in which the members of the Irish bar speak of the people and the lower classes. Thus, in spite of the formalities of procedure—in spite of all the legal solemnities which surround the accused in the presence of his judge, there is an inward feeling, that this is not a deliberation of judgment, but a preparation of vengeance; this lie of forms, promising equitable chastisement, but concealing a kind of vengeance, is endured; but, when the judge pronounces the terrible sentence of death, it might be deemed the signal for a fierce engagement between the party of the judge and the party of the accused, were not the court filled with armed policemen, whose presence prevents the parties from coming to blows.

In England, the magistrate sees in every accused person an unfortunate fellow-citizen, a person charged with a crime of which he may be innocent, an Englishman invoking the sacred rights of the constitution. In Ireland, the justices of the peace, the judges, and the jury, treat the accused as a kind of idolatrous savage, whose violence must be subdued, as an enemy that must be destroyed, as a guilty man destined beforehand to punishment. In England, the penal laws are sanguinary, the forms of proceeding are in some respects barbarous, but the manners of the people are humane, the jury is clement, and the judge merciful. In Ireland the penal code is more sanguinary than that of England; all the bad principles of English legislation are practised, and the magistrate is as severe as the law.14

Hatred of Law by the People.

Who now will be astonished to learn that the Irish population, which hates and despises its magistrates, hates and despises the laws of which they are the organs,15 that in Ireland this hatred of the law is universal? Who will be astonished at the horror with which any share in its administration inspires the community?16

Sentence of death was once pronounced at Waterford, the culprit was ordered for execution, but even in that country of paupers no one could be found, at any price, to perform the revolting office, and the first officer of the crown was obliged himself to hang the criminal.17

Who now will be astonished at the public abhorrence which pursues not only every complainant and informer, but also every witness in a criminal trial? Who does not see, that hence results the impossibility of obtaining witnesses without buying them? Who does not comprehend that this contempt and hatred for criminal law produces the most anti-social disposition that can exist amongst any people, the habit of having recourse to violence? Who does not foresee that this consequence of social evil might, if combined with political passions or circumstances, produce a violent revolution?

Will anybody be now astonished at the sympathy which every criminal excites in Ireland? And if matters have reached such a height that murders are committed in the noonday, persons looking on from their windows, and allowing the murderers quietly to escape; if, when the constables have arrested the guilty, the crowd will pounce upon the officers of justice and rescue their prey; if everybody believes that he will sanctify his dwelling by offering a refuge to the malefactor; and if a universal confederation exist in the land, to save from the penalty of law all those pursued by justice; who, I say, can be astonished?

[cut subsections on "The Office of Public Accuser", "Unanimity of the Jury", "Official Functionaries,"]

[cut Subsection II and III and IV on Same principle"]




The exercise of these rights is, however, more jealously watched in Ireland than in England.


There are some differences which are noted in a subsequent page.


The Irish parish is now of little importance.


This sum is, however, barely adequate to the necessary expenses of his station.


The exercise of the prerogative of mercy by an Irish lord-lieutenant was never questioned until the present year. It might be asked, of the expiring Orange faction as it was of Edward I.,

  • “And must their word at dying day
  • Be nought but quarter, hang, and slay?”

He can proclaim counties or baronies, and thus put them under the restrictions of the Coercion Bill.


In 1800.


The Union was a most unpopular measure.


One of the supporters of the Union being asked, “Will you sell your country?” replied, “Yes, and thank God I have a country to sell!”


Twenty-eight peers chosen for life.


One hundred and five commoners.


Forty-shilling freeholders have been deprived of the elective franchise in Ireland.


This law has been greatly modified.


This description of the Irish magistracy is greatly exaggerated.


In this respect the administration of justice has been recently improved.


The abominable system of packing juries was abandoned under Lord Normanby’s administration; but recent efforts have been made to revive it by Lords Brougham and Roden.


The criminal law is more penal in Ireland than in England.


Confidence in the magistracy has greatly increased of late.


Law is more respected than it used to be.


Sir Richard Musgrave, the libeller of the Irish Catholics, was the sheriff.



Beaumont, "The civil, political, and religious privileges of the Aristocracy must be abolished" (1839)

Editing History

  • Item added: 14 Oct., 2016
  • 1st Edit:


Gustave de Beaumont, Ireland: Social, Political, and Religious, ed. W. C. Taylor (London: Richard Bentley, 1839). 2 vols.

  • Volume II. Part III.
    • Chapter II. Remedies proposed by the author—The civil, political, and religious privileges of the Aristocracy must be abolished. <>

Editor's Intro




We have seen how chimerical are the various extraordinary means of safety tried or proposed for Ireland; a multitude of other analogous plans might be discussed, whose total inutility may be shown by a very brief examination.

What, then, must be done in the painful and formidable condition of Ireland? How is she to be left without a remedy for such calamities and such perils? What is the advantage of trying useless remedies? What complicates the difficulty is, that it is not enough to find measures good in themselves; it is further required that their application should be practicable. It is not sufficient to discover the system of administration best suited to the state of Ireland; it must also be adapted to the taste of England.

Is it not better, then, first to consider, abstractedly, what the interests of Ireland, taken apart, and by herself, would require?—reserving for subsequent examination how far that which is desirable is practicable; if what ought to be done will be done; if the interests of England will allow that to be accomplished which the interests of Ireland demand.

We have seen in the preceding chapters, that all the evils of Ireland, and all its difficulties, arise from the same principal and permanent cause—a bad aristocracy, an aristocracy whose principle is radically vicious. What is the logical consequence to be deduced from these premises? Clearly, that in order to put an end to the misery of Ireland, it is necessary to do away with the aristocracy in that country; as, to abolish the effect, we must remove the cause.

Whence arises the inefficiency of all the measures tried or proposed? From this simple fact, that no one of these modes of cure applies to the primary cause of the disease.

Thus a means of alleviating the immense misery of the lower classes is sought in providing them industrial employment by the establishment of manufactories; but it is soon seen that the agitation of the country, and the passions of the people against the rich, render such establishments impossible: that is to say, the remedy for the evil is rendered impossible by the evil itself.

It is proposed to relieve the country by the emigration of some millions of paupers; but besides the enterprise being impracticable, we may soon see that if millions of paupers were removed from Ireland by enchantment, they would soon be reproduced by her institutions, always fertile in the production of miseries of every kind: to act thus would be to suppress the effects, and leave the cause in full force.

It has been thought that the most painful wounds of the country might be cured by forcing on the rich obligations of charity towards the poor; but here we are again brought back to the very principle of the evil—that is to say, to the heart of the aristocracy, which rejects charity. And we see, though some wound may be healed, and some pains alleviated, the sufferings of the poor would again spring in multitudes from the inexhaustible source of tyranny. This source must be dried up; it is this primary cause that must be attacked; the evil must be assailed at its root; every remedy applied to the surface will only afford transitory relief.

The social and political state of Ireland is not a regular state; everything shows that it is vitiated at the core. The disorder appears not only in the infinite miseries and perpetual sufferings of the population; it is even seen in the means adopted to effect deliverance from those evils.

What is this association, leading the people in defiance of government, but organised anarchy? What must a country be, where this anarchy is the sole principle of order? What is it, I say, but a society whose head is at enmity with its body,—which is in perpetual rebellion against itself?—in which every rich man is hated, every law detested, every act of vengeance legitimate, every act of justice suspected? Here is a violent and anomalous position, in which a nation cannot long continue.

We may conceive Ireland cloven down and trampled under foot by its aristocracy for centuries, but we cannot comprehend when Ireland has arisen, the aristocracy and the people facing each other, the former still eager to oppress, the latter sufficiently strong to resist oppression, without bringing it to a close.

Though the necessity of reforming the Irish aristocracy should not be proved by what has been already stated, perhaps one single argument will suffice to demonstrate it. In fact, look at the alternative: if allowed to subsist, one of two things must be done—the aristocracy must be supported against the people, or the people allowed to overthrow it.

In the first case, the sustaining power must become the mere instrument of all the passions of this aristocracy,—of its desires as well as its hatreds;—must place the artillery of Britain at the disposal of every landholder who cannot get his rents from his tenants,—must subject to arbitrary and terrible laws every county in which the poor make an attack on the rich and their properties:—can the Irish aristocracy, with any conscience, demand—can it even wish for such sanguinary protection?1

In the second case,—that is to say, if the people be supported against the aristocracy; or, what is nearly the same thing, left to itself,—the aristocracy, deprived of a support without which it cannot exist, is delivered over, without defence, to the most cruel reprisals; it falls, bound hand and foot, into the bands of an enemy, full of resentment, subject to all the vengeance and all the madness of a victorious party; and, in this case, it may be asked, whether destruction is not more humane than such a state of existence?

This destruction, equally just and necessary, would be singularly easy in Ireland. In the first place, it would be aided by the whole strength of national feeling. In England, where the aristocracy is still so powerful, and, I might almost add, so popular, there is scarce a suspicion of the feelings with which Ireland regards her aristocracy.

Generally contented with their lot, the lower classes in England do not dispute the privileges of the rich; I might almost venture to say, they take pleasure in them: they see with a sort of pride these immense fortunes, large estates, parks, castles, and splendid abodes of the aristocracy; and they say that if there were no lower ranks, such glorious opulence and national splendour would not exist. People may laugh at this indigent enthusiasm in the happiness of the rich: I agree to it; but it is a proud thing for an aristocracy to have inspired such sentiments. In general, a poor Englishman regards the rich without envy, or at least without hatred. If he sometimes attacks him, it is without bitterness, and then he rather assails the principle than the man; the person most opposed to aristocracy shows a profound respect to aristocracy; whilst he blames the political privilege, he bows to the lord; and even when he affects to despise birth, he honours fortune. England, fondly attached to liberty, does not care about equality.

In Ireland, on the contrary, where the laws have never been anything but means of oppression for the rich, and resistance for the poor, liberty has less value, and equality greater. Doubtless there is too much of the English spirit in Ireland to allow of liberty being absolutely despised, or equality thoroughly comprehended; but the people is driven towards it by its most powerful instincts. In truth, there is nothing of philosophy or reason in its desire for equality. The feeling is still undefined in the soul, as the idea of it is still vague in the understanding; still it is the passion which seems destined to seize strongly on the heart, and which indeed is predominant there already. Equality is in all the Irishman’s wants, though it be not in all his principles. He already loves equality in so far as inequality is odious, and established for the advantage of those whom he detests. I do not know that he has an enlightened taste for democracy; but most assuredly he hates aristocracy and its representatives. A remarkable fact! In England, in the midst of feudal institutions singularly mingled with democracy, a good government has produced respect, and sometimes even a passion for aristocracy. In Ireland, unmingled aristocratic institutions, under the influence of pernicious policy, have developed democratic sentiments, instincts, and wants unknown in England.

The overthrow of the aristocracy, which would be so popular in Ireland, would also be easy, for at the same time that democracy is rising in that country, aristocracy is perceptibly on the decline. This aristocracy never possessed any great organic force.

What renders the English aristocracy particularly powerful, is the strict union of all the elements that compose it: large estates, great capitals, the church, the universities, medicine, the bar, arts and professions, form a compact association in that country, whose members have one common interest, passion, and purpose, the conservation of their privileges.

Nothing like this exists in Ireland. If we except the university, which is so closely connected with the church that it may be regarded as its twin sister, all the aristocratic elements are held together in Ireland by the feeblest of ties.

There is, indeed, a great and natural sympathy between the landlords and the ministers of the Anglican church; the same religion, the same passions, the same political interests. Rejected by the same hatred, they are disposed to approximate like two transported criminals in their place of exile. But their mutual relations have not that regularity which can alone be derived from real and solid union; neither resides habitually in Ireland, they only meet there by accident, they regard each other as if they met in a strange land; it is a transitory union, which, however sincere it may be deemed while it lasts, leaves no traces behind.

The great wealth and possessions of the church are, besides, a subject of jealousy, and an occasion of discord to the landlords. We have already seen with what emulation churchmen and laymen press upon the people; and how the exactions of one are injurious to the other. The tenant used to pay his landlord badly on account of the tithe he owed to the minister; the parson found it difficult to recover his tithe, because the landlord charged too high a rent. These rivals in extortion are, nevertheless, political allies; and after having mutually imputed to each other the miseries, famine, crimes, and desolation of the country, they renew their friendly intercourse; but their union, sufficiently apparent for the tyranny of the one to injure the other, is not sufficiently close to afford mutual strength to both.

The support which the aristocracy receives from its other auxiliaries is still more feeble and uncertain.

The municipal corporations, its most faithful allies, have long fallen into a state of discredit and disgrace, which renders the advantage of their assistance very doubtful; and the scandalous abuses in which they are steeped, imprint disgrace on the power they sustain, more injurious than the zeal they display in its service. Besides, these corporations have not the strength which their great wealth gives the English corporations. Formerly, as Protestants, they had the monopoly of commerce, and all profitable industry; but, whilst this monopoly lasted, Irish industry was sacrificed to that of England. Their privileges, therefore, were worth little. To preserve them, they were, therefore, forced to place them at the mercy of England, whose yoke they endured for the sake of imposing their own. At present, they are delivered from the bonds of England, but we have already seen that since its enfranchisement, Irish industry creates more democratic properties than it does wealth in alliance with privilege.

We have seen that Catholics of the middle class have taken possession of the bar, formerly the ally of the Protestant aristocracy. Thus on all sides this aristocracy is feeble, divided and menaced in the small remnant of its strength. Aristocratic life, in fact, exists only in one body, the lords of the soil. There only can we find any accordance between the views of the members, any regular proceedings, any durability of union; but, even here, the most wealthy, that is, those who could give most power to their order, are out of the country.

Finally, the largest proportion of Irish landlords has recently fallen into a state of distress and degradation, which deserves to be considered. We have seen a description of the evils endured by the poor agriculturists of Ireland; the misery of the rich in that country would also furnish a very sad picture. It is an undisputed fact, that most of the landlords are greatly embarrassed in their fortunes; they are crushed by a weight of debt, their estates are loaded with mortgages. Many of them, bound to pay interests equal to the whole amount of their rents, and perhaps even more, are but nominally proprietors of their estates. I have seen an estate of fifty thousand acres, bringing a rent of 20,000l., out of which the proprietor only enjoyed about 500l. a year. Nothing is more common than to see receivers appointed over large estates, charged with collecting rents due to the landlord for the benefit of the creditors, and appointed, either by a court of law, or in consequence of a special agreement.

This distress of the Irish landlords, which goes on continually increasing, arises from several causes; but the first and chief is their own recklessness. They have for centuries thrown all the trouble of their affairs upon agents or middlemen; and now they begin to perceive that their affairs have been badly conducted, and that their fortune, instead of increasing, has declined. Another cause is their blind cupidity, which, by rendering their tenants miserable, has become a source of impoverishment to themselves. And then, as they are actually in a state of war with the population, this incessantly causes them great loss, without any other advantage than the pleasure of injuring the people in their turn. It would be difficult to form an idea of the number of cattle maliciously killed or mutilated every year on the lands of the rich; the quantity of wood and houses burned, and of meadows dug or ploughed up. I find that in 1833 more outrages were committed in the province of Munster, for the mere purpose of injuring the landlords, than for the purpose of procuring any advantage to the perpetrators. Thus, in this catalogue of crimes I find only fifty-nine robberies, but I observe one hundred and seventy-eight outrages dictated by brutal and vindictive violence, which ruin the landlord without enriching the tenant.2 I have said that nothing can compensate the poorer classes for want of sympathy in the rich: it must be added, that the rich can never find an adequate substitute for the sympathy of the poor: and when the poor hate the rich, there is no severity of law, no court-martial, no punishment, which can prevent the poor from labouring to effect the destruction of those whom they detest.

Finally, the indigence of the rich arises from the following final cause, of a more recent date. During the war of France with Europe, and especially from 1800 to 1810, England having been almost entirely reduced for subsistence to the resources of its own territory, Ireland, which had always been its most abundant granary, became more so than ever. The demand for the agricultural produce of Ireland became, consequently, so great, that the prices were raised out of all proportion. This state of things continuing from year to year, the landlord, perceiving that the harvests of their tenants rose to double or triple their value, raised their rents in the same proportion; and not foreseeing that this increase of fortune, so agreeable to their pride, would cease with the accident which gave it birth, they established the expenses of their households on this fragile base.

So long as the continental blockade continued, the Irish aristocracy was splendid and prosperous, and the peasants themselves suffered less; but peace having been restored to the world, the Irish corn market was deprived of its monopoly, agricultural produce lost its exaggerated value, and the fortune of all the landlords was suddenly reduced. Still, in spite of the reverse, which took away one half of their revenues, the rich did not diminish their expenses.

It is in the nature of aristocracies not to be able to retrench; they are erected on a pedestal, of which vanity is the base: now, vanity would cease to be itself, if it submitted to restriction or abatement. Such resignation is especially impossible in an aristocracy of wealth, for when fortune is the measure of rank, who would wish to humiliate himself by acknowledging the diminution of his riches?

The Irish landlords could not, and would not, diminish their outward show on the scale of their declining fortunes: continuing to live at the old rate with decreased resources, some have been completely ruined, and others are rapidly hastening to the same consummation; and rather than reform in their household one horse or one servant, they are about to fall from the summit of their pride into extreme indigence. It is a common weakness of mankind not to be able to support the approach of a light evil whose hour is fixed, and to advance resolutely towards an immense inevitable misfortune, the date of which is uncertain. Aristocracy exaggerates all the vices, as well as all the virtues, which proceed from pride.

Whatever may be the fortunes of the Irish aristocracy, no tears will be shed over their fate. Why should any one be grieved to see the decrepitude of a body whose end is unavoidable? Left to itself, this aristocracy would probably perish. But ought it, infirm and impotent as it is, to be allowed to languish for years, perhaps for ages, and expire in slow agonies amidst the outrages it will excite, the miseries it will produce, and the curses it will bear to its very last hour? No; its weakness, instead of being its protection, should be its condemnation: it can never be anything to the Irish people, but the blood-stained phantom of a government; and, doubtless, it will never recover from the terrible attacks made upon it, when even its season of unresisted tyranny has sunk so low. It is, therefore, nothing better than a scourge and a nuisance, which should be removed as soon as possible.



[Note text has been omitted from the English translation. Please see the French version of the book for the content of this note.]


[Note text has been omitted from the English translation. Please see the French version of the book for the content of this note.]