Friday, October 22, 2010

Jonathan Swift and A Modest Proposal

By John Severin
"These mothers are forced to employ all their time begging sustenance for their helpless children," writes the great English 18th century satirists Jonathan Swift in his short pamphlet "A modest proposal." In this pamphlet Swift is identifying the major problem in the country of Ireland, which was starvation. "A Modest Proposal" is a satire in which Swift suggests a solution to the starvation throughout Ireland during the 18th century. Swifts idea is to have mothers sell their children to be skinned and eaten, by the richer members of society. On the release of this proposal their was a large outcry against it and it became immensely popular. The pamphlet had to be reprinted several times within its first few years of release. Starvation was devastating the nation of Ireland, but the population did not understand that is was caused by a plethora of reasons such as, political, economical, and social reasons.

Ireland had long been beset by the English who had abused their friendship and eventually turned them into a colony. In 1199 the King of England, John, referred to Ireland as his "Sister Kingdom," but things quickly changed as England saw what money could be made by exploiting their Irish neighbors. The religion of England was Protestantism around that time, however Ireland was a catholic country, and this difference caused the Protestant English to look down on the Catholic Irish. By 1621 England held power over Ireland and they began to pass laws that took away the land of the Irish Catholics. In 1641 Irish Catholics owned 59% of the land in Ireland, but by 1703 they only owned 17%. One of the main factors in this transition was the revolt of 1688. Because the Irish Catholics were oppressed so terribly, in 1688 many of them decided to fight back against the English. However they could not hold up for long against the well trained army of the English. In order to pay their soldiers and captains, England promised these men fighting in its army land in Ireland. Since it was the Catholics who started the uprising it was the Catholics who lost their land when the English made good on their promises of land to their soldiers. These laws continued to be enforced and eventually the Catholic hierarchy in Ireland was abolished. The "Sister Kingdom" idea had completely disappeared by 1729 and Ireland was looked upon as an English Colony.

I have already computed the charge of nursing a beggars child. Ireland was in dire social straits by the time Swift wrote his proposal in 1729. In the 1660s to 1680s Charles 2nd of England passed the Navigation Acts. These acts forbade the exporting of goods by any of the English colonies unless they were exporting it to England. Since England applied these rules to Ireland, it severely hurt the Irish trade, because it stopped them from trading with other countries and making some profit for themselves. In addition to the Navigation Acts, Charles 2nd passed the Cattle Acts, which stopped the English from importing livestock. He did this partly so that the English who raised livestock would not have to compete with an international market. However since the Irish could not export their livestock to England and they were banned from exporting it anywhere else, due to the Navigation acts, finances from livestock quit entering the country. Furthermore in 1699 England passed the Woolen Act which banned the Irish from exporting wool to anywhere including England. This was devastating to the economics of Ireland because throughout the country the Irish were raising sheep, and their wool fetched a fairly high price on the market compared to the rest of the goods that Ireland had to sell. With this restriction on their exporting wool, they were only allowed to ship it to certain English ports allowing the English to get wool at very low cost.


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