John Stuart Mill and the Catholic Question in 1825

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John Stuart Mill's connection with the Irish question spanned more than four decades and embraced a variety of elements. Of his writings on Ireland, the best known are his forty-three Morning Chronicle articles of 1846–47 composed in response to the Famine, the section of the Principles of Political Economy that treats the issue of cottier tenancy and the problem of Irish land, and, most conspicuous of all, his radical pamphlet England and Ireland, published in 1868. All of these writings take the land question as their paramount concern. The fairly absorbing interest in the subject disclosed by Mill during the second half of the 1840s arose from the fortuitous conjuncture of the disaster unfolding in Ireland and his engagement with the principles of political economy. Between 1848 and 1871 Mill's Principles went through seven editions (excluding the People's edition) and the substantive revisions he made in the section on Ireland from one edition to the next illumine both the essence and the accidentals of his bearing towards that country. Mill's cogent and controversial advocacy of fixity of tenure in England and Ireland constituted the heart of his answer to the Fenian challenge. The land question aside, Mill was drawn into the battle over the Irish university system in the 1860s largely through his friendship with John Elliot Cairnes, professor of jurisprudence and political economy at the Queen's College Galway. On this subject, however, Mill wrote almost nothing for publication. The longest single piece he ever drafted on Ireland was his first, an essay that predated the Morning Chronicle articles by two decades. In his own bibliography this essay is referred to as ‘An article on the Catholic Question which appeared in the Parliamentary Review for 1825’. Although the essay of 1825 could justly have borne the same title as the pamphlet of 1868, the particulars of course differ markedly. Ireland never ceased to pose a question during the course of the nineteenth century, but the dynamics shaping that question changed much between the mid-1820s and the late 1860s. Even so, the 1825 essay prefigures something of Mill's later involvement with the Irish question, and also invites examination as a quite remarkable piece of political journalism from the pen of a young man not yet twenty, who would subsequently establish himself as the most influential thinker of his generation.







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