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spread social injustice would come to an end. However, the ˜overburdened™
Westminster Parliament could not effectively deal with Irish business, and
Gladstone was already indicating that a measure of devolution would be
advisable if not inevitable. Reading between the lines of Gladstone™s
Midlothian speeches, ˜Ironside™ concluded that these were ˜[i]mportant
admissions in respect to what is called Home Rule™.31 In the heady days of
the second Midlothian campaign, the Irish Nationalist William Shaw
suggested that justice to all classes was analogous to justice to all nations
within the United Kingdom.32 It sounded plausible and for a while even
Lloyd™s Weekly “ which later became and remained consistently Unionist “
advocated a measure of Home Rule under the motto ˜Ireland for the
Irish™: it demanded ˜the prompt satisfaction of just Irish claims for local
government “ such indeed as should be given to the various centres of the
English people™.33 Notably, ˜home rule™ was used in a rather vague sense
and it is not clear how far any of its proponents would have been prepared
to go and whether they envisaged the establishment of a whole Parliament
in Dublin. Moreover, for these radicals Home Rule was not merely a
proposal for solving specific Irish problems: it was also part of a broader
humanitarian and emancipationist philosophy which they perceived as
integral to Gladstonian liberalism.


29
˜Ironside™, ˜The new Parliament™, Newcastle Weekly Chronicle, 21 Feb. 1874, 4; l.a., ˜The
parliamentary week™, Lloyd™s Weekly, 5 July 1874, 6.
30
Gracchus, RN, 14 Mar. 1875, 3. 31 Ironside, ˜Ireland™, NW, 29 Nov. 1879, 4.
32
W. Shaw, ˜The general election™, FJ, 19 Mar. 1880, 7.
33
L.a., ˜The Liberal programme™, LW, 21 Mar. 1880, 1; and ˜Ireland for the Irish™, LW,
24 Oct. 1880, 1.
Home Rule in context 57

However, disillusionment followed in 1880“2, when the Gladstone
government delivered not devolution, but more coercion in Ireland,
Egypt and “ for a while “ South Africa. Moreover, Gladstone and
Granville turned a blind eye to French imperialism in Madagascar, another
issue which perturbed British anti-imperialists and humanitarians.34
While the GOM managed to retain the allegiance of the party, frustration
and dissatisfaction were voiced by some radicals. Chamberlain believed
that, had John Bright started an agitation against the government (from
which he resigned in protest), he would have caused its downfall.35 In a
pamphlet Frederick Harrison bluntly put their case in terms refreshingly
free from ˜orientalist™ stereotypes:
Imagine your own feelings, if you had to send every year some forty millions
sterling out of the taxes of the country to pay Turkish, or Arab or Chinese bond-
holders; and then, having paid that regularly, that you had to keep a Turkish pasha
and a Chinese mandarin in London to control your expenditure, so that every
penny of the Budget had to get the sanction of their excellencies, and if
Mr Gladstone or any other Chancellor of the Exchequer wished to put on or
take off a tax, down would come a fleet of ironclads from the Bosphorus into the
Thames, and train their 80-ton guns right in view of the Tower and Somerset
House. That is the state of Egypt now.36
He reminded his readers that at the 1880 election the people had expli-
citly rejected Beaconsfieldism and its ˜policy of aggression on weak coun-
tries, under the pretence of safeguarding British interests, a policy
endeavoring [sic] to control the government of semi-barbarous States
for our own advantage, and for the supposed protection of India™. He
stressed that ˜a war of aggression is wrong™ even when ˜covered by the
justly-revered name of William Ewart Gladstone™.37 Eventually, pressure
for a stricter adherence to ˜the principles of Midlothian™ began to be felt,
especially in regions such as urban Yorkshire and the north-east, where
the trade unions were stronger and politically united. In April 1884
Mundella observed that ˜Egypt is the rock ahead™ and in June he feared
that Gladstone might be brought down by Radical discontent over the
whole affair.38


34
K. von den Steinen, ˜The harmless papers: Granville, Gladstone, and the censorship of
the Madagascar Blue Books of 1884™, Victorian Studies, 14 (1970), 165“76. For contem-
porary British anti-imperialism see Matikkala, ˜Anti-imperialism, Englishness and
empire™.
35
Cited in A. J. P. Taylor, The trouble makers: dissent over foreign policy, 1792“1939 (1957;
1985), 88.
36
F. Harrison, The crisis in Egypt, Anti-Aggression League Pamphlet No. 2 (1882), 11.
37
A. Besant, Egypt (1882), 1“2 (St Deiniol™s pamphlet collection).
38
Mundella to Leader, 17 Apr. and 21 June 1884, in Leader Papers.
58 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

Harrison presented the Egyptian crisis in ˜class™ terms “ it was about
peasants being oppressed by rentiers “ at a time when radical opinion
makers were describing the Irish agitation against the Coercion Act as
the struggle of the ˜toiling masses™ against ˜landlordism™. In both Egypt
and Ireland political self-government was perceived as the key to social
amelioration. For example, the original programme of the Democratic
Federation “ which targeted a working-class constituency “ included
˜National and Federal Parliaments™ for the United Kingdom; indeed,
according to Heyck, ˜Ireland provided the adhesive to keep the
Democratic Federation together.™39 It may also have provided potential
recruits: as a group of disenchanted Skye crofters pointed out to
Chamberlain at the beginning of 1885, he was member of a government
which was ˜using the national forces to assist in extorting from labouring
men the necessaries of life™ by ruthlessly evicting Irish tenants unable
to pay the rent.40 It was hard for them to support such a man and
his party. Aware of such unrest in Radical circles, Parnell himself
tried to foster an Anglo-Irish Home Rule alliance in 1881, when he
˜[appealed] to the great masses of population of England and Scotland,
who are much less represented in the House of Commons than
the masses of Ireland™. He proposed ˜[a] junction between English
democracy and Irish nationalism upon a basis of Ireland™s right to make
her own laws, the overthrow of territorialism in both countries and
enfranchisement of labor [sic] from crushing taxes for maintenance of
standing armies and navies™.41 As Pelling has pointed out,42 there is
evidence to suggest that this situation generated tensions within popular
radicalism and stimulated demands for the formation of an independent
radical workers™ party like those already existing in Italy, France and
Germany. Indeed such alliance between the advocates of the working
class and the champions of the national question was precisely part of the
scenario which Karl Marx had envisaged when he thought about the
conditions for the establishment of a successful independent socialist
party in Britain.43
This hope that class solidarity would become a political force for justice
remained one of the permanent features of British Radical support for

39
Heyck, Dimensions, 66“7; Hamer, Liberal politics, 307; L. Barrow and I. Bullock,
Democratic ideas and the British labour movement, 1880“1914 (1996), 12.
40
˜Resolution passed by the Skye Crofters at The Brae, Uig, and Glendale, at the meetings
addressed by Mr Henry George™, 3 Jan. 1885, printed resolutions in SLA, Meetings and
Conference Agendas, NLS, Acc. 11765/35.
41
Cited in M. Davitt, The fall of feudalism in Ireland (1904; 1970), 307“8.
42
Pelling, Origins of the Labour Party, 15“21.
43
Strauss, Irish nationalism and British democracy , 188.
Home Rule in context 59

Irish Nationalism, although some Lib-labs were characteristically uneasy
about it and preferred to take a purely political view of the question. Thus
in 1881 Tom Burt dismissed what he described as the ˜narrow™ class spirit
behind Home Rule, arguing rather that it was about liberty and the
constitution. He thought that the repeal of coercion required the estab-
lishment of legislative autonomy for Ireland and that the latter was
compatible with the preservation of the Union.44 Indeed, by then liber-
tarian concerns had become more important than any ˜class™ alliance for
both Burt and his Lib-lab colleague Henry Broadhurst. They remained
consistent opponents of coercion “ indeed, on occasion they were ˜the
only two radicals™ to do so.45
If Britain and Ireland had become so completely alienated from each
other that even a Liberal administration went so far as suspending con-
stitutional liberty, then Ireland was entitled not only to Home Rule, but
also to full independence. For British rule there had become merely a
form of imperialism, ˜[that] sentiment that impels us to retain the pos-
session of India in defiance of every moral law “ it is that sentiment which
forbids us even to entertain the claims of the sister island for independ-
ence™,46 as ˜Ironside™ put it in 1881. By then Home Rule was widely
discussed in the north-east, as indicated by the proceedings of the
Newcastle Debating Society. At the beginning of January 1882 the
˜Irish Secretary™ of the ˜Government™ in the society™s mock parliament
proposed ˜to enquire into the relationship between England and Ireland
and into the system of self-government now in practice in European and
other countries™.47 The member playing the ˜Secretary of State for the
Colonies™ supported the proposal, arguing that ˜[there] are important
matters of municipal management which are brought from Ireland to
Westminster at great cost, and which, along with other matters of self-
government, might, we think, be left to the Irish people™.48 The debate
continued over the following weeks with many ˜MPs™ supporting Home
Rule and citing colonial examples of success and prosperity under that
system of government.49 The Newcastle area “ with an Irish population of
more than 50,000 “ had become a Home Rule hotbed.50 Not surprisingly


44
L.a., ˜County government™, NW, 19 Nov. 1881, 4.
45
G. O. Trevelyan to Lord Spencer, 16 Feb. 1883, in P. Gordon (ed.), The Red Earl: the
papers of the Fifth Earl Spencer, 1835“1910, vol. I (1981), 241.
46
Ironside, ˜The two nations™, NW, 22 Oct. 1881, 4.
47
˜A Royal Commission on Home Rule™, Debater, 9 Jan. 1882, 5, in Tyne and Wear
Archives, 200/124.
48
Ibid., 7. 49 Ibid., 26 Jan. 1882, 5“7 and 2 Feb. 1882, 3“10.
50
N. Todd, The militant democracy: Joseph Cowen and Victorian radicalism (1991), 128,
135, 141.
60 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

when the Home Rule Bill was discussed in the spring of 1886, the
Newcastle Liberal Association voted in favour by a majority of 516 to 4
(the total membership was 600).51
It was one of the city™s MPs, Joseph Cowen, who produced some of the
clearest statements of the radical case for the establishment of a Parliament
in Dublin. As early as 1880 he stressed the moral authority which should
be recognized to the Home Rule MPs, arguing that the Irish Parliament
had been suppressed in 1800 ˜by a combination of fraud and force™ and
the country ruled by Coercion Acts ever since. At the last election
˜the Home Rule members returned for Irish constituencies [were] propor-
tionately more numerous than the Liberals returned for English constitu-
encies™. He concluded that ˜if they [were] wise they [would] recognise it
and deal with it™.52 In 1881, in response to the Coercion Bill, he invited
his fellow MPs to consider how they would feel if ˜England had been
conquered by France as Ireland had been by England™, with a Parliament
in Paris ˜which contained some 550 Frenchmen and 100 Englishmen and
that this Parliament of Frenchmen not only proposed to suspend the
constitutional liberties of the English people but [also] the parliamentary
liberties of the English representatives™.53 Writing to a friend, Cowen
observed:
Anything more inconsistent, or more suicidal, than the policy the liberal party
[sic] have pursued on the Irish question it is impossible to conceive. If the liberals
had been in opposition, instead of power, there would not have been two or
three members, but two or three score, who would have done and said exactly
what I have done and said in the House of Commons.54
Even so, the House sat continuously for more than forty hours to overcome
Irish and radical opposition to the Bill “ ˜less the ˜˜ping-pong™™ recently
experienced over Tony Blair™s anti-terrorist legislation than Test Match
cricket™, as Tim Hames has commented.55 In 1882, defending the Irish
MPs against charges of ˜moral responsibility™ in acts of terrorism, Cowen
reminded W. E. Forster that he had been an active supporter of English
societies supporting the liberation of Italy from foreign occupation ˜[w]hen

51
A. Keith Durham, Secretary of the Newcastle upon Tyne Liberal Association, to
J. Cowen, 13 Apr. 1886, JC B374 (J. Cowen Papers).
52
J. Cowen, House of Commons, 30 Aug. 1880, original TS in Cowen Papers, B207;
HPD, CCLVI, 718“23.
53
J. Cowen, House of Commons, 26 Jan. 1881, TS, in Cowen Papers, B211; HPD,
CCLVII, 1477“8.
54
Cowen to H. B. Thompson, from Newcastle, n.d. but winter 1881, in Cowen Papers, B415.
55
T. Hames, review of R. Douglas, Liberals, in Times Literary Supplement, 8 Apr. 2005, 4.
Cf. D. Thornley, ˜The Irish Home Rule party and parliamentary obstruction,
1874“1887™, Irish Historical Studies, 12, 45 (1960), 38“57.
Home Rule in context 61

the Austrians were occupying Lombardy and Venice, just like the English
were now occupying the South of Ireland™. Yet, he had not been held
responsible for the ˜great many excesses™ committed by the Italians in
their struggle for independence, ˜infinitely greater than any committed in
Ireland™.56
He continued along these lines over the following years. In 1883, in a
public speech he reminded Gladstone that, during the Midlothian cam-
paign, he had condemned Tory coercion and declared that ˜[w]hen
personal liberty is suspended we have arrived at a stage only short of
civil war™ “ a reasoning which ˜had not lost its cogency™ only because
repression was now implemented by the Liberals. If Gladstone™s Crimes
Act was necessary to prevent intimidation, it was remarkable that under
its operation the Irish electors ˜[clung] all the closer to the alleged terro-
rists™, whose parliamentary candidates were returned by large majorities
˜in county and in borough, by farmers and by shopkeepers™. If the
Nationalist MPs were in league with assassins, what about the people
who elected them? ˜When an entire people are against the law the law is
wrong . . . To convict the Irish representatives of being accessories to
outrage is to convict the people of the same offence, and to convict the
people is to condemn the Government.™57 Parnell had then been recently
rescued from bankruptcy by a popular subscription raised among the
tenant farmers. Commenting on this episode, Cowen argued that
such testimonial ˜equals, or more than equals, that raised by the populous
and wealthy England for Mr Cobden on the morrow of the great Free
Trade victory™. It was ˜the last, but not the least, striking proof of an
intense and sustained national sentiment™. Such sentiment, Cowen
argued, was ˜plain enough to anyone but ourselves, but we cannot, or at
least do not, see it. We would see it, however, clear enough and preach no
end of homilies concerning it, if it occurred in a distant country and under
foreign rule.™58
In Ireland there was a national revival demanding, but not receiving,
recognition, and the resulting conflict deepened the political and cultural
differences among the peoples of the British Isles: for, while British rule

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