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in Dublin was anti-national, Cowen was aware that the Irish themselves
were divided between what he saw as the Protestant, ˜mercantile™,
urbanized North-East and the Catholic, peasant and rural South and
West. Blind to the complexity of the situation, the Gladstone government

56
J. Cowen, House of Commons, 24 Feb. 1882, TS in B251 (Cowen Papers). This
sentence is not included in HPD, CCLXVI, 1615, in which Cowen™s speech was
published.
57
Cited in rep., ˜Mr J. Cowen, MP, on Ireland™, FJ, 24 Dec. 1883, 6. 58 Ibid.
62 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

regarded the Irish problem in purely material terms: ˜They conceive that
all they want is money, and they throw a new Land Bill at them as they
would throw a bone at a dog, and cry, ˜˜Take it and be content.™™ The Irish
do take it, and make the most of it, and are not content; and they won™t
be.™ Cowen concluded that Home Rule was the only feasible way forward:
˜Ireland is too big to be ruled for any length of time as we do the Mauritius
or Fiji or Falkland Isles. If we tried remonstrances would come thick and
fast from America and the colonies “ remonstrances such as we sent to
Turkey about Bulgaria, and to Russia about Poland.™ By contrast, self-
government would take the heat out of the question, and assimilate
Ireland to other parts of the empire, including Canada, but also the
Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. They worked well together, though
each dealt in different ways with its specific, local or national problems.
Paraphrasing one of John Bright™s famous 1866 reform speeches, Cowen
said: ˜We have tried to rule Ireland by the army, by the Church, and by the
landlords, and by the three combined. All these agencies have failed, and
brought us only shame and humiliation. Let us now try to rule her by her
own people.™ He surmised that the empire would best be preserved ˜by
conceding to the divers nationalities within it liberty to work out their own
national life in their own way. A genial diversity will give elasticity and
strength, a procustian uniformity weakness.™59
The other MP for Newcastle, John Morley, was also an outspoken
advocate of Home Rule. ˜There is human nature even in Ireland,™ he
had claimed in an article in the Nineteenth Century. Self-government
would provide ˜institutions that shall give the manhood of Ireland™ “
those ˜men of practical and independent character™ which Englishmen
regarded as ˜the material of good citizenship™ “ ˜a chance, and public spirit
an outlet, and public opinion its fair measures of power and respectabi-
lity™. This was what ˜Home Rule™ was really about.60 Their ideas were
given further prominence by Herbert Gladstone “ the Premier™s son “ in a
speech at Leeds on 12 February 1883. Significantly, he was one of the few
Liberal candidates not to be opposed by the Nationalists in Britain in
1885, at the time of their pro-Tory campaign.61


59
Ibid. Cf. Bright™s Glasgow speech of 16 Oct. 1866: ˜If a class has failed, let us try the
nation™ (cited in G. M. Trevelyan, The life of John Bright, (1925), 368). The notion that
the divide in Ireland was between ˜mercantile™ and peasant interests was to become a
recurrent theme in the post-1886 debate: ˜Belfast Merchant™ [R. Patterson], Mercantile
Ireland versus Home Rule (Belfast, Liberal Unionist Association, 1888, in the Library of
Queen™s University Belfast).
60
J. Morley, ˜Irish revolution and English Liberals™, The Nineteenth Century, Nov. 1882,
reprinted in ˜Mr John Morley on Ireland™, FJ, 30 Oct. 1882, 6.
61
MacKnight, Ulster as it is, vol.II (1896), 110.
Home Rule in context 63

It was in this context that Morley™s close associate, Joseph Chamberlain,
started to develop a Radical alternative to the government™s policies, in
the shape of a ˜National Council Plan™, which most observers perceived
as very similar to actual Home Rule.62 He firmly opposed any suggestion
that Westminster™s sovereignty could in any way be compromised. But
this was not an issue for most British supporters of Home Rule because,
as one Liberal candidate confessed, ˜he [was] unable to see any difference
between Elective County Boards in England and Home Rule in
Ireland™.63
However, this was an area where deliberate equivocation blurred
actual disagreement for, as Labouchere had pointed out as early as
February 1882, ˜Home Rule [could] be understood in any one of 100
senses, some of them perfectly acceptable and even desirable, others of
them mischievous and revolutionary.™64 While Harrison and other
radicals insisted that Ireland was a distinct ˜nation™ and Home Rule was
supposed to be a recognition of this fact,65 many of the English Home
Rulers were thinking only in terms of ˜local government and no
coercion™.66 The latter™s continuous application generated such revulsion
in Britain that in October 1882 the main Nationalist paper, reviewing the
policy recommendations voiced in the Daily News and Birmingham Post,
declared that ˜the chief difference between the Irish League and English
Liberals [was] a point of detail™.67 The confusion about the meaning and
implications of Home Rule in contrast to local government may be
a further aspect of the same radical ˜anti-Parliament™ culture already
mentioned in chapter 1 (p. 22). For the parliamentary class “ or at least
for some of them “ Home Rule and local government were clearly distinct
and had different constitutional implications. By contrast, suspicion
of both Parliament and the central government was a basic feature
of English popular radicalism and Nonconformity and had various impli-
cations. In the economic sphere it sustained a preference for self-help and


62
See below, chapter 5, pp. 233“4.
63
Bowen Green, cited in ˜The new political programme™, Pontypridd Chronicle, 28 Aug.
1885, 5.
64
Cited in Hind, Labouchere, 62.
65
Rep., ˜Mr Frederic Harrison and Home Rule™ (at a ˜crowded meeting™ of the London
Positivist Society), FJ, 31 May 1886, 5.
66
J.L. Garvin, The life of Joseph Chamberlain, vol. I: 1836“1885 (1932), 612. As one
radical elector wrote to Joseph Cowen during the Home Rule crisis, ˜As an ardent Home
Ruler in the sense of giving every province of the British Isles power to manage their own
affairs with the utmost freedom (consistent with the ultimate supremacy of the Imperial
Parliament) I regret to be unable to support Mr Gladstone™s proposals.™ (˜A Native of
Newcastle™ to J. Cowen, 1 June 1886, in Cowen Papers, B376.)
67
L.a., FJ, 19 Oct. 1882, 4.
64 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

free trade; in religious matters it inspired support for disestablishment
and the separation of church and state; and in constitutional affairs,
demanded that powers be devolved to locally elected assemblies.
Furthermore, if (as some radicals insisted) sovereignty rested ultimately
with ˜the people™, rather than Parliament, devolution was more than
administrative decentralization “ it was actually a claiming back of powers
and rights which belonged to the people in the first place. Hence to many
the difference between ˜Home Rule™ and ˜self-government™ was less impor-
tant than we might have expected.
Yet, in the run up to the election of 1885, apart from in Newcastle and
some other constituencies with a strong Irish presence, Home Rule was
not a prominent issue with British Radicals. For example, William
Abraham (Mabon) “ who would soon become a Home Ruler “ was
mainly concerned about the various questions raised by Chamberlain™s
˜Unauthorised Programme™, particularly disestablishment, allotments
and homesteads for labourers.68 George Howell, who stood for Bethnal
Green, was implicitly against Home Rule in 1885, but adopted it in 1886.69
The electoral programme of Joseph Arch “ allegedly an old supporter
of Irish self-government “ demanded ˜[e]qual laws for all parts of the
United Kingdom™, which was quite the opposite of Home Rule.70
Another veteran Lib-lab, George Potter, who published a series of
˜Leaflets for the new electors™ in 1885, emphasized traditional Liberal
ideas about religious equality, finance, taxation and electoral reform.
Moreover, he recommended ˜a sweeping and drastic reform of the land
laws, so conceived as to secure the restoration to the community of the
natural right to the common heritage of mankind, i.e., a right to share in
the soil of their native land™.71 In practice he recommended the extension
of the Irish system of the ˜three Fs™ (Fixed tenure, Fair rents, Free sale) and
the abolition of primogeniture and entail, which restricted the sale of land


68
See rep., ˜The Rhondda miners and the representation question “ Great conference at
Ton™, Pontypridd Chronicle, 28 Jan. 1885, 5 and ˜Mabon at Llynpia™, ibid., 16 Oct. 1885,
5. See also ˜The ideas of the new voters™, Fortnightly Review, 37, 218, NS, 1 Feb. 1885,
148“67, contributions by H. Broadhurst, ˜A Trade Union Official™ and A. Simmons; and
M. K. Ashby, Joseph Ashby of Tysoe (1974), 117.
69
G. Howell, ˜To the electors of the North-East Division of Bethnal Green™, addresses for
1885 and 1886, both in the Howell Collection, microfilm edition, I/5, P6.
70
Cited in Horn, Joseph Arch, 235. In June 1886 his programme explained that the adoption
of Home Rule was due to ˜the decisive voice of the Irish electors™ who ˜compelled the
Liberal Party, as the truly Constitutional Party, to give their claims due consideration™, the
cause of Home Rule being ˜the cause of justice and freedom™ (ibid., 237).
71
See, from G. Potter™s ˜Leaflets for the new electors™, the following: ˜Liberal v. Tory
finance™, ˜The political situation™ and ˜The wants and claims of radicalism™, in Nuffield
Collection of Electoral Posters, Nuffield College, Oxford.
Home Rule in context 65

and helped to preserve the power and status of the large landowners. Even
other radical candidates, who were already known supporters of Home
Rule, did not raise the issue at the election. E. S. Beesly “ who, as we have
seen, had long been an advocate of Home Rule “ stood for Westminster as
a Radical candidate, but neither he nor Harrison, who supported his
candidature, mentioned Irish self-government in his handbills. Instead
they focused on the reform of parliamentary procedure, the relations
between state and church, and international relations.72 Beesly men-
tioned municipal government for London and allotments for farm-
workers, and when he advised his electors ˜not [to] be frightened by
windy talk about danger to the Constitution™, he meant the disestablish-
ment of the church (which was actually advocated in other radical propa-
ganda) rather than Home Rule.73 In general, electoral propaganda
addressed to working men emphasized traditional Liberal concerns,
such as the benefits of free trade (in response to Tory calls for ˜fair™
trade), reform of the land laws, free elementary education, ˜peace
abroad™, the national debt and municipal government for London.74
On the other hand, those radicals who did mention Irish self-government
did not seem to regard it as more controversial than other radical causes,
such as church disestablishment.75 Thus Helen Taylor “ J. S. Mill™s
stepdaughter, who took the extraordinary step of campaigning as a
parliamentary candidate in North Camberwell “ advocated legislative
independence for Ireland as well as universal suffrage, free education,
a graduated income tax and popular control over foreign policy and espe-
cially the right to declare war. She was enthusiastically supported by Anna
Parnell and Michael Davitt, who praised her as ˜the only English person . . .
who looked on the Irish Question entirely from an Irish point of view™.76

72
˜Professor E. S. Beesly™ by Mr Frederic Harrison, and ˜Westminster Town Hall Meeting™,
6 Nov. 1885, handbills in John Johnson Collection, Bodleian Library, Oxford, ˜Creeds,
Parties, Policies™.
73
E. S. Beesly, poster ˜Electors of Westminster™, 25 Nov. 1885; cf. ˜The Disestablishment
and disendowment of the Church of England essentially a working man™s question™, both
handbills in Nuffield Collection of Electoral Posters, Nuffield College, Oxford.
74
See, for example, ˜Fair trade in America. Letter from a working man™, handbill based on
the report of a meeting of working men, Birmingham 14 Nov. 1885, published by the
NLF, in Nuffield Collection of Electoral posters, Nuffield College, Oxford; F. A. Binney,
Why working men should be Liberals n.d. [1885] pamphlet in J. Johnson Collection,
Bodleian Library, ˜Creeds, Parties, Policies™, box 17.
75
See E. H. Pickersgill to the ˜Borough of Bethnal Green™, handbill dated Oct. 1885, in
ibid.
76
Ti, 19 Nov. 1885, 7; handbills dated Dublin, 5 Nov. (Anna Parnell) and 12 Nov. 1885
(M. Davitt), in John Johnson Collection, Bodleian Library, Oxford, ˜Ireland™. In the
end Taylor was not able to stand because her nomination and deposit were rejected by
the returning officer (P. Levine, ˜Taylor, Helen (1831“1907)™, ODNB, vol. LIII,
897“9).
66 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

However, neither of them mentioned Home Rule as an electoral issue,
nor did Josephine Butler or the land reformer Henry George, who recom-
mended Helen Taylor as the champion of ˜the great idea of Justice™.77
It is not totally clear why they did not give more prominence to
the cause, although quite naturally they were primarily concerned to
secure Taylor™s right to stand for Parliament, and with this purpose
in mind focused on her broader radical credentials rather than a
specific issue such as Irish Home Rule. On the other hand, at this point
in time some radicals were under the impression that Home Rule,
when it finally entered the realm of practical politics, would not be
particularly controversial. After all, even a self-styled ˜Progressive
Conservative™ like Colonel Hamilton in Southwark was prepared to
support ˜as large a measure of Local Self Government as is consistent
with the Imperial interests of the United Kingdom™. This statement was
like a feeble echo of the earnest advocacy of similar principles by his
opponent, the radical R. Pankhurst.78 The latter saw Home Rule as a
question of local liberty “ ˜the oldest . . . the most solid, of our freedoms™.
Together with ˜[t]he extension of local self-government to London and the
country™, it was ˜a supreme duty, not merely for administrative efficiency
and public economy, but for high moral and social ends™. Like ˜local
option™ (empowering municipalities to prohibit the sale of alcohol),
Home Rule would give ˜to Ireland the opportunity of being governed
with just regard to Irish ideas™. His peroration culminated with the motto
˜local self-government on federal lines™.79 It was a good illustration not only
of the fact that Home Rule remained a vague and malleable concept, but
also of the exalted opinion that Victorian radicals had of local self-
government.




77
Handbills dated 20 Aug. (Butler), and New York, 25 Sep. 1885 (George), in John
Johnson collection. For Butler™s attitude to Home Rule see Jordan, Josephine Butler,
17“8, 277, and B. Caine, Victorian feminists (1993), 154.
78
C. E. Hamilton, ˜To the electors of Rotherhithe™, Oct. 1885, and R. Pankhurst, ˜To the
electors of the Rotherhithe Division of the Borough of Southwark™, 7 Oct. 1885, both in
John Johnson collection. However, Hamilton made it clear that he would resist any
proposal for a separate Parliament in Dublin. For this election see M. Pugh, The
Pankhursts (2001), 40“2.
79
Pankhurst, ˜To the electors of the Rotherhithe Division™ (emphasis in the original).
Before 1885 this would have been enough to establish a strong claim to the Irish
Nationalist vote “ and to alienate moderate Liberals: in his previous attempt to enter
Parliament, in Manchester, Pankhurst ˜appears to have enjoyed the backing of . . . Parnell
and Michael Davitt™ (Pugh, Pankhursts, 28). In the end, Pankhurst™s hostility to Catholic
education and Parnell™s nationwide appeal to the Irish electors to vote Tory were enough
to secure the seat for Hamilton.
Home Rule in context 67

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