Liberty was principally about self-government and the Durham miners
themselves were â€˜like Home Ruleâ€™: â€˜[they] like to manage their own
business and donâ€™t always submit to the powers that beâ€™.109 By contrast,
â€˜[h]olding Ireland means the adoption of the principle that it is the busi-
ness of the State to organise industry and apportion wealthâ€™.110 Thus,
Home Rule was interpreted as a general principle: it was like being â€˜let
aloneâ€™ or being â€˜no longer governed by an oligarchyâ€™, but by â€˜men of their
own choice â€“ by a Fenwick, a Wilson and a Crawfordâ€™.111 Why should not
Irish tenants be similarly allowed to choose leaders from their own ranks?
Of course, the parallel was less than accurate (Durham county was not
demanding Home Rule, and the Lib-labs were content to sit at
Westminster), but it was one way of saying that â€˜the Democracyâ€™ should
not fear to endorse the claims of â€˜fellow toilersâ€™ in Ireland.
If in north-east England Home Rule was the minersâ€™ orthodoxy,
among pitmen north of the border it became an indispensable
weapon in the rhetorical arsenal of aspiring labour leaders. In 1888 in
T. Burt cited in The Northern Echo, 31 May 1886, 4.
L.a., â€˜The classes against the massesâ€™, The North-Eastern Daily Gazette, 29 June 1886.
For evidence of popular enthusiasm for Home Rule in Yorkshire and Durham see the
reports in The North-Eastern Daily Gazette, 1 July 1886 re. Stockton, York, the
Hartlepools and Normanton (Benjamin Pickardâ€™s division).
Newscutting, n.d. [1890 or 1891], â€˜Lecture by Mr John Wilson, MP for Mid-Durhamâ€™,
in John Wilson Papers.
E. S. Beesly, Socialists against the grain: or, the price of holding Ireland (1887), 3, 6.
C. Johnson in rep., â€˜Sir Henry Havelock-Allan and his Constituentsâ€™, The Northern Echo,
31 May 1886, 4. See also K. D. Brown, John Burns (1977), 75; Ashby, Ashby of Tysoe,
Home Rule in context 73
Mid-Lanark James Keir Hardieâ€™s political ambitions depended from the
start on the creation of an improbable alliance centred on the Home Rule
issue: â€˜[the] Mining and Irish vote in Mid-Lanark [is] not less than 3500.
If these, especially the Irish, can be secured, the seat is ours . . . I have the
Irish leaders in Glasgow on my side, and will see Davitt on Monday
evening. Some local miners [sic] agents, socialists too mark you, are in
opposition.â€™112 To the chairman of the local Liberal Association Hardie
commended himself as â€˜a Radical of a somewhat advanced typeâ€™,
who â€˜from the first [had] supported Mr Gladstones [sic] Home Rule
proposalsâ€™.113 He was not selected and, refusing the NLF offer of an
alternative constituency at the next general election, decided to contest
Mid-Lanark as an independent radical and working-class candidate.
Fearing the consequences of a split in the pro-Home Rule vote, the
Irish refused to support him and endorsed instead the official Liberal
candidate. Inevitably, Hardie was defeated.114
In Wales, the minersâ€™ and quarrymenâ€™s â€˜peasantâ€™ frame of mind was
reportedly one of the reasons why they sympathized with the Irish.115 The
local trade union leadersâ€™ pro-Home Rule rhetoric combined â€˜classâ€™ and
â€˜ethnicâ€™ arguments. At a meeting at Tonypandy one speaker urged: â€˜So
now, boys, let us help Ireland to assert her rights. Ireland will help us
when we need it. Let us join the Grand Old Manâ€™s army to fight for
freedom for our Celtic race.â€™116 Michael Davitt, who also addressed the
meeting, promptly confirmed that the struggle was about class, and
recommended a â€˜single taxâ€™ on mining royalties. He deplored
Chamberlainâ€™s readiness to excite sectarian fears, but, rather inconsis-
tently, let fly with an anti-Semitic tirade against Goschen, the Jew who
â€˜represented that class of bond-holders, and usurers, and mostly money-
lenders for whom that infamous Egyptian war was wagedâ€™. He did his best
to reassure his hearers about Irish loyalty to the empire and the â€˜finalityâ€™ of
Home Rule, although someone in the audience did seem to be quite ready
to contemplate that Ireland might in future become fully independent.117
J. Keir Hardie to H. H. Champion, 15 Mar. 1888, National Library of Scotland, J. Keir
Hardie Dep. 176, vol. 8, Letter Book, 104â€“5. For the general picture see
I. G. C. Hutchison, A political history of Scotland, 1832â€“1924 (1986), 181, 263 and
T. C. Smout, A century of the Scottish people, 1830â€“1950 (1986).
James [Keir] Hardie to Bailie Burt Esq., 15 Mar. 1888, in NLS, J. Keir Hardie Dep.
176, vol. 8, Letter Book, 107.
Morgan, Keir Hardie, 28â€“31.
T. E. Ellis to A. Gyfaill, 1 July 1886, in Ellis Papers, 4733 and notes on the similarities
between Ireland and Wales, n.d., ibid., 4647.
Rep., â€˜The Rhondda electors and the Home Rule question: enormous mass meeting at
Tonypandyâ€™, Pontypridd Chronicle, 7 May 1886, 8.
74 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
At another meeting Mabon called the Liberals â€˜who had gone astrayâ€™
to repentance, stressing that â€˜the 12 direct labour representatives now
in Parliament voted altogether in one block for the scheme put forward
[by] Mr Gladstoneâ€™, and insisted that their vote â€˜was a true exposition of
the feeling of the working men throughout the countryâ€™.118 One speaker
surmised that those who opposed Home Rule â€˜were mostly half-baked
[sic] â€“ religious fanatics, bigots, who had been preaching freedom for the
protestants [sic] all their lifetime, but the moment that they saw the
Catholics of Ireland were going to have a little freedom they came down
with their foot on it and said, â€˜â€˜We canâ€™t trust them.â€™â€™â€™119 The minersâ€™
leader William Abraham (â€˜Mabonâ€™) concluded that â€˜[o]ur duty as working
men is clear. The present to us is a golden opportunity â€“ to say whether
Ireland in future shall be governed by force or by constitutional means â€“
by a policy of peace, or by that of coercion.â€™120 He was returned unop-
posed for what was then described as the â€˜Rhondda Labour and Liberal
seatâ€™, his grip on the constituency being such that his electoral expenses
amounted to only sevenpence.121
Welsh support for Irish Home Rule and anger at Chamberlainâ€™s
â€˜betrayalâ€™ of Gladstone was confirmed during the summer when
Parnell, Dillon and, later, Chamberlain visited Cardiff. On 28 June
Parnell brought large cheering crowds â€“ including many women â€“ on to
the streets and eventually to a meeting in Park Hall, but those who sought
admission were so numerous that a second, overflow open-air meeting
was hastily arranged. On 5 July there was another â€˜great mass meetingâ€™
and scenes of â€˜[t]he greatest enthusiasmâ€™ to welcome the Nationalist John
Dillon to Cardiff. By contrast, when the leading Radical Unionist visited
the city a day later, a reporter commented that it was â€˜a strange sight to see
Mr Chamberlain, the man whom but a few months ago the working
classes in England almost idolized, making his way through the streets
of Cardiff protected only by the presence of the police from undoubted
violence at the hands of a number of those same working menâ€™.122
Rep., â€˜The rent agitation in the Rhondda: mass meeting at Porthâ€™, Pontypridd Chronicle,
25 June 1886, 8.
Ibid. For further examples see the report â€˜South Wales contests . . . important meeting at
the docksâ€™, Cardiff Times & South Wales Weekly News, 2 July 1886, 8 and the speech (in
Welsh) by J. Millward, in â€˜The Irish Home Rule question: open air meeting at Taff â€™s
Wellâ€™, Pontypridd Chronicle, 16 July 1886, 5.
W. Abraham, â€˜Mabonâ€™s manifesto: appeal to working-men votersâ€™, Cardiff Times and
South Wales Weekly News, 10 July 1886, 2.
Rep., â€˜Mabonâ€™s election expensesâ€™, Cardiff Times & South Wales Weekly News, 31 July 1886, 3.
See the three reports: â€˜Mr Parnell in Cardiff â€™, Cardiff Times & South Wales Weekly News,
3 July 1886, 6; â€˜Mr Dillon in Cardiff â€™ and â€˜Mr Chamberlain in Cardiffâ€™, ibid., 10 July
Home Rule in context 75
Besides the miners, the other â€˜standing armyâ€™ in the Gladstonian camp
comprised the Nonconformists. As Bebbington and Goodlad have writ-
ten, although Home Rule alienated a number of the more fervently
Evangelical ministers, the large majority of the Dissenters remained
loyal to the Premier.123 Even in Calvinist Scotland, to the chagrin of hard-
line Protestants, â€˜the bulk of the Free Church Voluntary ministers and elders
[was] going dead for the Irish brigands and the Irish priesthoodâ€™, becoming
â€˜active supporters of Popery against Protestantismâ€™.124 Among the
Wesleyans, traditionally less pro-Liberal than other Nonconformists, a con-
temporary survey suggested that no more than 30 per cent became Unionist
as a consequence of the Home Rule Bill.125 In Parliament, only two of the
seventeen Methodist MPs opposed Home Rule in June 1886. The Baptist
Times, which represented Irish as well as British churches and was
Unionist in orientation, had to admit that a majority of the delegates at
Baptist association meetings supported Gladstone.126
Bebbington and Goodlad have claimed that the Dissenters endorsed
Home Rule as â€˜a matter not of prudential judgment but of moral princi-
pleâ€™.127 Part of the reason was that, in general, they were very sensitive
about issues of civil liberty. In 1881 John Page Hopps, a pastor from
Leicester, had written to Chamberlain to denounce the governmentâ€™s
repression of the Land League, which he described as a legitimate organ-
ization campaigning to redress Irish grievances. His letter was published in
The Times and various other newspapers and caused considerable concern
to Chamberlain.128 Home Rule was soon identified with civil liberty, but it
is interesting that at the beginning of 1886 the Nonconformist response to
Gladstoneâ€™s Irish crusade was rather confused and hesitant. After all, the
new proposal was in sharp contrast to the traditional Protestant view that
the chief cause of troubles in Ireland was â€˜Popery, which blights every
portion of the globe where it is the predominant religionâ€™.129 Up until the
D. W. Bebbington, The Nonconformist conscience: chapel and politics, 1870â€“1914 (1982),
89â€“195; Goodlad, â€˜Gladstone and his rivalsâ€™.
â€˜A Free Churchmanâ€™, â€˜Free Church Humiliationâ€™, letter to The Scotsman, 7 July 1886,
10; see also â€˜A Free Church Elderâ€™, letter to The Scotsman, 8 July 1886, 10.
D. W. Bebbington, â€˜Nonconformity and electoral sociology, 1867â€“1918â€™, Historical
Journal, 27, 3 (1984), 643.
Heyck, â€˜Home Rule, radicalism and the Liberal partyâ€™, 266â€“7; cf. Newman Hall,
â€˜Nonconformists and Unionismâ€™, Fortnightly Review, 290 (1891), 320â€“3.
Bebbington, Nonconformist Conscience, 89; Goodlad, â€˜Gladstone and his rivalsâ€™, 180â€“3.
Heyck, Dimensions, 73â€“5.
J. Wood, â€˜Irish troubles and remediesâ€™, The Primitive Methodist Quarterly Review and
Christian Ambassador, Oct. 1881, 647 (emphasis in the orginial).
76 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
eve of the 1886 election even the Gladstonian J. Guinness Rogers
acknowledged that â€˜[there] has not been within the memory of man a
grave political issue in relation to which the opinions of Nonconformists
have been so slowly formed and are still so much dividedâ€™ as on Home
Rule, â€˜which has up till a very recent period been so distinctly tabooed . . .
that Englishmen could not allow it even to be discussedâ€™.130 Both The
Baptist Magazine and The Congregationalist, edited by J. Guinness Rogers,
expressed concern about the radicalism of Gladstoneâ€™s Irish plans and
their likely pitfalls, especially in view of the potential risk of religious
oppression of the Protestant minority.131 The Baptist Magazine actually
opposed and denounced Home Rule as a de facto repeal of the Union, a
policy â€˜perilous to Great Britain, and not advantageous to Irelandâ€™, a
reckless plan which was contemplated merely because of the general
veneration for Gladstoneâ€™s infallibility and which should teach
Nonconformists â€˜the folly of having political popesâ€™.132
Others, however, denied that the GOMâ€™s charisma had been decisive,
pointing out that, after his snubbing of their demand for church disestab-
lishment in 1885, Dissenters â€˜were not disposed to accept a policy of Irish
Home Rule simply because Mr Gladstone was its authorâ€™. Instead, like
Chamberlain, they objected to the way in which the measure had been
forced upon the Liberal party: â€˜our [parliamentary] majority had been
gathered for a very different purpose, and [was] not satisfied to see its
strength shattered and broken in order to satisfy a body of men who had
done it all the injury possible at the pollsâ€™.133 Then, however, their
attitude changed, partly in reaction against â€˜the virulent [Tory and
Unionist] attacks upon Mr Gladstoneâ€™ which â€˜not only roused [the
Dissentersâ€™] old loyaltyâ€™, but also convinced them â€˜that the battle which
is being waged around him is the battle for every principle we love and
every cause in whose triumph we are interestedâ€™.134 Some claimed that
they were persuaded to support Home Rule by Bright and Chamberlain
J. Guinness Rogers, â€˜The coming election: an address to Nonconformistsâ€™, The
Congregationalist, July 1886, 497.
â€˜The Irish crisisâ€™, The Congregationalist, Feb. 1886, 146â€“53; â€˜The Liberal party and its
leadersâ€™, The Congregationalist, Apr. 1886, 305; The Baptist Magazine, Apr. 1886, 183
and June 1886, 277.
The Baptist Magazine, May 1886, 229â€“31.
â€˜Mr Gladstoneâ€™s Irish policyâ€™, The Congregationalist, May 1886, 383.
Ibid., and â€˜The Liberal party and its Irish policyâ€™, The Congregationalist, June 1886,
467â€“73; cf. â€˜Politicsâ€™, The Primitive Methodist Quarterly Review, Apr. 1886, 380. Even
before the beginning of the Home Rule crisis, The Congregationalist deplored any
personal attack upon the private character of politicians as one of the plagues of
American democracy and utterly inconsistent with Christian ethics in politics:
â€˜Religion in politicsâ€™, The Congregationalist, Sep. 1885, 665.
Home Rule in context 77
more than by Gladstone because â€˜their opposing arguments were of
the same type as those which have been urged against every reform in
the pastâ€™ and in fact were â€˜distinctly Toryâ€™.135 â€˜The reason underlying the
Tory and Whig opposition . . . is distrust of the Irish people . . . [However,
the] Irish are like other people; treat them unjustly, and they will be
discontented, and disposed to rebel; treat them equitably, and repose a
fair degree of trust in them, and they will be orderly and loyal.â€™136
British Dissenters were â€˜puzzledâ€™ by what they regarded as the sectari-
anism of the Irish Protestants137 and contemptuous of Chamberlainâ€™s
claim â€˜that the only Irishmen to be considered in the settlement of the
question are the Irishmen of Ulster, or rather a section of themâ€™.138
Furthermore, the â€˜violence imported into the discussion by the Ulster
Orangemen and their championsâ€™, Chamberlain and Churchill,
discredited their cause.139 Orangemen were no freedom fighters: instead,
they feared the separation of religion from political power as much
as English and Welsh Anglicans hated disestablishment. Their reasons
were similar: they tried to preserve both privilege and discrimination
â€˜and took refuge in blatant imperialismâ€™.140 In any case, they were
misguided, for they did not realize that â€˜Home Rule would not make
the country one whit more Catholic than it is at presentâ€™. The priests
would not have greater influence over their flocks than under the Dublin
Castle system, because they already â€˜exercise a paternal authority at
presentâ€™ and the British government â€˜would never dream of hindering
the Irish people from obeying their chosen spiritual guides . . . The power
they possess to-day is not due to religious terrorism.â€™141 In fact, the one
thing likely to increase their power was Protestant sectarianism and in
particular the activities of the Orange Order, who, â€˜with the watchwords