During the early 1700s, when England restored Charles II to the throne, the oppression of Catholics became a part of British society & even became part of British law. England was still a rapidly growing trade nation as well as a being very successful in it’s colonialism around the world.While it stripped smaller countries of it’s culture & claimed their people, England was also stripping its smaller neighbors of their culture & freedoms as well. Ireland was a very farm-based, agricultural country. After Henry VIII is called in (or takes over Ireland) between 1669 & 1771, the Catholics of Ireland are robbed of almost EVERY right they have to owning land, voting, be able to bare arms , or even join any form of military. It even went as far as restricting learning opportunities for Irish Catholics. Doing this allowed rich Irish protestants to come in & buy their land. These landowners then forced the poor into a form of pretty much slavery & caused extreme poverty in Ireland.
This is why Jonathan Swift wrote “A Modest Proposal.” He uses political satire suggesting that the rich should just eat the poor Irish children. He then mentions how any realistic ideas would be preposterous. Swift’s proposal was influential to starting to restore Ireland & helping to make life for the poor “easier” rather than oppressing them more. A Modest Proposal was successful because it made British readers stop & think of the issues in Ireland rather than ignoring them.
There is a lot of debate behind whether or not Swift’s satirical essay was actually the push to change the way Ireland was functioning.
In Swift’s proposal he mentions “realistic” proposal’s. “…let no man talk to me of other expedients: …taxing our absentees at five shillings a pound: of using neither cloaths, nor household furniture, except that which is made of our own growth & manufacture: Of utterly rejecting the materials and instruments that promote foreign trade…” (Swift p. 11) This paragraph which continues to add more REAL remedies allows us to understand what Swift is truly proposing with his modest “realistic” proposal. He simply suggests that Ireland should consider not only taxing the rich to help support the poor, but also to stop importing goods that can be made in Ireland. By doing this not only would the country make more money but more jobs would be available for the poor of Ireland so they wouldn’t have teens selling themselves into slavery just so they wouldn’t starve. This is also the point where he stops & directly “attacks” the politicians who know of the issues in Ireland but are turning their heads to it because there was no “easy fix.”
He also says; “…quitting our animosities and factions…” (Swift p. 11) Here he seems to be referring to the separation of the classes & the different rights & rules set for each group. The rich of course having little to no rules & the poor continuously being oppressed & living harder & harder lives not only in Ireland but in England as well. What started as oppressing Catholics quickly became an oppression of the poor in general. And he seems to be speaking on the rich of Ireland being content with what is happening to their fellow country men & allowing it to continue & some even supporting it. Some even causing the suffering by making it next to impossible for the poor to work & own their own land.
He also throws a lot of shade at England when he states “…although perhaps I could name a country, which would be glad to eat up our nation whole without it.” (Swift p. 11) It suggests he thinks England wants to claim Ireland & make it theirs. He doesn’t seem to be talking about the literal idea of eating children here. He seems to be very obviously suggesting that England would be very happy to see Ireland “fail” on their own & need England to come in & take over AGAIN, thus making Ireland dependent of England & eventually maybe even becoming a territory of England as much of other parts of the world were at the time.
He continues to throw mocking hints at high politicians by saying; “…I am not so violently bent on my own opinion, as to reject any offer, proposed by wise men, which shall be found equally innocent, cheap…” (Swift p. 11) He seems to be addressing politicians because he speaks of how any wise man proposal of how they could fix the problem in a more humane & realistic way would be welcomed & supported. This idea is trying to pull the politicians attention & suggest that they SHOULD be thinking of ways to help instead of seeing the issues & letting the people of Ireland continue to suffer & not help them in anyway. This also goes back to when he says; “…for this one individual Kingdom of Ireland for no other that ever was, is, or, I think, ever can be…” (Swift p.11) He seems to be saying that since there was no other proposal & no one seem to be making any real attempt to help the poor or to stop the poverty in Ireland, his Modest Proposal is the best option compared to what is being done now.
Throughout the essay he makes remarks towards the politicians of Ireland & the politicians of England to try and make them open their eyes & realize that the issues in Ireland are very much by their doing more than anything else. Through trading, empowering the rich, oppressing the poor & Catholics, & by refusing to make an effort to fix anything, they are the reason for famine, poverty, & death all throughout Ireland. This essay helped to open some of the British & Irish people’s eyes to the real issues behind Ireland’s suffering. It didn’t just attack the politicians for not doing anything but it also mentioned realistic proposals the politicians & rich could take to end the poverty & fix the issues in Ireland rather than just ignoring the issues & allowing these people to continue to suffer, die, & sell their lives away into slavery.
“Founders Online: Affairs of Ireland, 20 November 1729.” National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives and Records Administration, n.d. Web. 28 Feb. 2018.