Hence, after the failure of countless Acts of Parliament, it was borne in upon all earnest land-reformers that there could be only one final and satisfactory solution: that was the abolition of dual ownership—in other words, the buying out of the landlord and the establishment of the tenant in the single and undisputed ownership of the soil on fair and equitable terms. A tentative start had been made in land purchase by the Land Purchase Act of 1885—called, after its author, the Ashbourne Act. This experiment had proved an immense success, for in six years the ten millions sterling assigned for its operations were exhausted and 25,867 tenants had been turned into owners of their farms.
It became clear that a scheme of purchase which would, within a definite period, root out the last vestige of landlordism was the one only real and true solution for the land problem. And now, blessed day, and glory to the eyes that had lived to see it, and undying honour to the men whose genius and sacrifices had made it possible, the decree had gone forth that end there must be to landlordism. And, wonder of wonders, the landlords themselves had agreed to the fiat decreeing their own extinction as a ruling caste. It was with heartfelt hope and relief, and with the sense of a great victory achieved, that the country received the wondrous news of the success of the Land Conference. The dawn of a glorious promise had broken through the long night of Ireland’s suffering, but the mischief-makers were already at work to see that the noonday sun of happiness did not shine too strongly or too steadily.
LAND PURCHASE AND A
TO KILL IT
I can only rapidly sketch the events that followed the publication of the Land Conference Report. Mr Sexton made it his business in The Freeman’s Journal to decry its findings on the sinister ground that they offered too much to the landlords and were not sufficiently favourable to the tenants, sneering at the proposal for a bonus, hinting that no Government would find money for this purpose. Mr Davitt, who was an earnest disciple of Henry George’s ideal of Land Nationalisation, naturally enough found nothing to like in the proposals for land purchase, which would set up a race of peasant-proprietors who would never consent to surrender their ownership to the State and would consequently make the application of the principles of Land Nationalisation for ever impossible in Ireland. Besides, Michael Davitt had cause for personal hatred of landlordism, which exiled his parents after eviction, and incidentally meant the loss of an arm to himself, and a violence of language which would be excusable in him would not be justifiable or allowable in the cases of men who had not suffered similarly, such as Messrs Dillon and Sexton. Yet the fault was not theirs if the Land Conference did not end in wreckage and such a glorious chance of national reconciliation and appeasement was not lost to Ireland.