John Elliot Cairnes (1823-75)


Life
b. Castlebellingham, Co. Louth, ed. Kingstown [Dun Laoghaire]; TCD grad. 1848; MA 1854; worked first at Brewery in Drogheda; while at Galway he was persuaded by Prof. Nesbit, Professor of Latin at Queen’s, to take up political economy there; held Whateley chair as Professor of Political Economy, TCD, 1856-61; publ. lectures as The Character and Logical Method of Political Economy (1857); Irish bar, 1857; Prof. jurisprudence and pol. Econ., Galway, 1859-65 [var. 1859-70]; crippled in hunting accident, Galway 1860; countered Archbishop Cullen’s policy of denominational education; issued The Slave Power (1862), a work that established his reputation in defending the Union position;
 
appt. to Chair of Pol. Econ., University College, London, 1866; resigned through sickness, 1872; d. London; works include The Slave Power (1862) which persuaded Britain to support the North against the South in the American Civil War; wrote on Irish university question; Some Leading Principles of Political Economy Newly Explained (1874); followed his friends Mill and Ricardo in economics though latterly showed independence on laissez faire in Ireland; d. at Blackheath; UCG (Galway) holds a collection of papers originating from his period in the chair there. ODNB DIW DIB DIL FDA

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Works
  • The Character and Logical Method of Political Economy (London: Longman 1857), and Do. [2nd rev. edn.] (London: Macmillan 1875);
  • The Slave Power, Its Character, Career & Possible Designs, Being an Attempt to Explain the Real Issue in the American Contest ([London:] Parker, Son & Bourn 1862), and Do. [2nd enl. edn. (London: Macmillian 1873);
  • Essays in Political Economy, Theoretical and Applied (London: Macmillan 1873);
  • Political Essays (London: Macmillan 1873);
  • Some Leading Principles of Political Economy Newly Expounded (London: Macmillan 1874), and Do. [rep. edn.] (NY: Augustus Kelley 1967).
 

Also contrib. ‘Colonization and colonial government’ to Lectures Delivered before the Dublin Young Men’s Christian Association [...] during the year 1864 (Dublin: Hodges, Smith and Co. 1865) - as listed under Lord Dufferin, supra.

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Criticism

  • W. Bagehot, ‘Professor Cairnes’ in Biographical Studies, ed. R. H. Hutton (London: Longmans 1895);
  • A. Weinberg, John Elliot Cairnes and the American Civil War: A Study in Anglo-American Relations (London 1969);
  • T. A. Boylan & T. P. Foley, ‘John Elliot Cairnes, John Stuart Mill and Ireland: Some Problems for Political Economy’, in Economists and the Irish Economy from the Eighteenth Century to the Present Day , ed. A. E. Murphy [Hermethena] (Dublin: IAP 1984), pp.96-119;
  • ‘Cairnes, Hearn and Bastable, The Contribution of Queen’s College, Galway to Economic Thought’ in Galway, Town and Gown 1484-1984, ed. D. Ó Cearbhaill (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1984).

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Commentary
William J. Maguire, Irish Literary Figures (1945), p.172ff; Cairnes distinguished four socio-economic strata, 1) unskilled or nearly unskilled, 2) artisans, 3) producers or dealers of a higher order, viz. civil engineers, chemists and superior retail tradesmen, 4) persons still more favourably circumstanced. Saw cost as the mechanism of exchange in any one group, but not between groups, since there was no competition, ‘what we find in effect is, not a whole population competing indiscriminately for all occupations, but a series of industrial la[w]yers superimposed on one another … those occupying the several strata [being] for all purposes of effective competition, practically isolated from one another. Other works incl. Essays in Political Economy, Theoretical and Applied, and Political Essays.

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Joseph Lee, The Modernisation of Ireland, 1848-1918 (1973), writes: ‘In 1886 J. E. Cairnes concluded that the Encumbered Estates Act of 1849 wrought a revolution in Irish agriculture by replacing the weakest and worst of the Irish squirearchy’ with men “whose mercantile instincts effectual save them from the suicidal rapacity of their predecessors”. John Stuart Mill echoed Cairnes in describing the Act as late as 1871 as “the greatest boon ever conferred on Ireland by any government”. Neither Cairnes nor Mill, ignoring the agricultural statistics, produced a scrap of serious evidence in support of their assertion. Cairnes’ careful investigation into the actual functioning of the Estates Court contrasts strikingly with the casualness of his conclusions concerning the economic impact of the Act. Trained as a lawyer, he simply could not conceived that such mountains of legal labour might bring forth an economic ridiculus mus. … Cairnes startled public opinion in 1865 by advocating peasant proprietorship in Ireland.’ (pp.24, 26.)

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Tadhg Foley, ‘Praties, Professors, and Political Economy’ (Irish Reporter, Third Quarter 1995), pp.6-7, citing Cairnes’s account of education as the ‘art’ that anticipates the stern tutorship of nature, ‘…a mode of acquiring knowledge which nature herself, where we omit the means of acquiring it, is pretty sure to bring home to us after her own rude fashion.’ Refers also to Cairnes acknowledgement of the justice of threatened dismissal from post of Prof. D’Arcy Thompson, QCG, for advocating clemency towards Fenian prisoners Burke and Doran, then under death sentence.

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Roy Foster, Paddy and Mr Punch (London; John Lane 1993), quotes a letter from John Stuart Mill to Cairnes: ‘I know tolerably well what Ireland was, but have a very imperfect idea of what Ireland is.’ (Foster, op. cit., p.8.) Foster adds bibl. note: E. D. Steele, ‘J. S. Mill and the Irish question, in The Principles of Political Economy 1848-1865’, in Historical Journal, 13, 2 (1970), p.231, and Steele, ‘J. S. Mill and the Irish Question: Reform and Integrity of the Empire 1865-1870’, in Historical Journal, 21, 3 (1970) [sic], p.419-50.

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Margaret Kelleher, ‘Prose Writing and Drama in English, 1830-1890: from Catholic Emancipation to the Fall of Parnell’, in Cambridge History of Irish Literature (Cambridge UP 2006), Vol. I [Chap. 11]: “Once at least in every generation the question ‘What is to be done with Ireland?“ rises again to perplex the councils and trouble the conscience of the British nation.” So begins John Stuart Mill’s 1868 pamphlet “England and Ireland” (1868), a text occasioned in part by the contemporary Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB) bombing campaigns in England which culminated in the notorious Clerkenwell explosion of December 1867. To an English public believing Irish disaffection to be “cured”, Fenianism, in Mill’s words, “burst like a clap of thunder in a clear sky”: “The disaffection which they flattered themselves had been cured, suddenly shows itself more intense, more violent, more unscrupulous, and more universal.” (Mill, ‘England and Ireland’ [1868], rep. in Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, ed. John M. Robson, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul 1982, Vol. VI, pp.507, 508.) Mill’s own prescription for Ireland’s “cure” was stark and immediately controversial; it also represented a significant advance from his earlier analyses of Ireland as published in the Morning Chronicle newspaper in the years 1846 and 1847, and also as featured in his Principles of Political Economy (1848) with its many subsequent editions. By 1868, in his view, the diagnosis was clear: “The difficulty of governing Ireland lies entirely in our own minds; it is an incapability of understanding”; more specifically, and influenced by the writings of his friend the political economist John Elliot Cairnes, Mill now endorsed what he termed “a permanent solution of the land difficulty”, namely fixity of tenure for Irish tenant farmers.’ (Ibid., pp.529, 532.)

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Quotations
Mixed education: ‘What can be better fitted to qualify the virus of bigotry and engender feelings of mutual consideration and respect, what better preparation for the duties of citizenship in a country of mixed religious faith can be imagined than a system of education which furnishes to the youths of all denominations neutral ground on which they may met and cultivate in common, without reference to the causes which have divided them, those pursuits in which they have a common interest.’ (Quoted in Bruce L. Kinzer, ‘John Stuart Mill and the Irish University Question’, Victorian Studies, Autumn 1987, p.61; cited in Hugh Kearney, ‘Contested Ideas of Nationhood’, in Irish Review, Winter/Spring 1997, p.15f.)

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References
Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2; selects Essays in Political Economy, ‘Political Economy and Land’ [184-88]; ‘Political Economy and Laissez-Faire’ [189-92]; quotes: ‘The discussions of the Irish question, whatever differences of opinion they may have disclosed, have at least made one point clear, no settlement of Irish land can be effectual which still leaves with landlords the power of indefinitely raising rent.’ (‘Political Economy and Land’, in Essay in Political Economy), [184]. BIOG & WORKS, 207 [as supra]. REMS, Cairnes influence on Mill [whom he met in 1859], see App. H to Principles of Political Economy, Vol. 3, Book III, pp. 1038-95, in J. M. Robson, ed. Collected Works of John Stuart Mill (Toronto & London: Routledge, Kegan & Paul 1965), 116n.; Cairnes was the first economist to expose the fact that laissez-faire [had] arisen out of specific social and industrial conditions in England that that it was, therefore, neither applicable to Ireland nor anything like a scientific law in itself [Seamus Deane, ed.], 117; Tom Kettle, newly appointed in 1912, cited John Kells Ingram and Charles Bastable as economist of the Irish school but omits Cairnes, 951-52.

Library of Herbert Bell, Belfast holds William Cairns, Outlines of Lectures on Logic [Belles Lettres] (Belfast 1835).

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