Gracchus, â€˜Oppression, repression and assassinationâ€™, RN, 27 Mar. 1887, 3;
Northumbrian, â€˜What is law?â€™, RN, 3 Apr. 1887, 2.
L.a., â€˜Coercion once moreâ€™, RN, 27 Mar. 1887, 1.
Rep., â€˜Mr Frederic Harrison on the Irish questionâ€™, Cork Examiner, 5 Jan. 1887, 3;
M. Davitt to W. J. Parry, 28 Dec. 1885, in Parry MSS, 8823 C, 5â€“5(d). Thomas Burt
Home Rule in context 83
Act, as under the old Conspiracy Law, convictions were based on circum-
stantial evidence and the arbitrary decisions of socially biased
It is this loose definition of conspiracy which constitutes the Coercion Bill into an
Act of the most oppressive character . . . The right allowed to English workmen to
say that they will not work for less than a certain price is not allowed to be
exercised by Irish tenants, who are in this position, that rent stands to them in
the same relation as wages do to working men in England. As Mr Gladstone put it,
working men in England are paid in wages, and working men in Ireland have their
earnings reduced by the payment of exorbitant rents, so that it practically comes
to a reduction of wages in the end. The right of combination peaceably and quietly
is therefore the same in both countries, and subject only to the preservation of
If, as Cooke and Vincent have argued, â€˜with his rediscovery of class war
in his manifesto of 1 May  . . . Gladstone firmly occupied the whole
left of politicsâ€™, his task was greatly facilitated by the police adopting
heavy-handed tactics to repress unrest not only in Ireland, but also in
England.170 The agitation against coercion culminated with the Hyde
Park demonstration of April 1887. A considerable effort had gone into
the canvassing of working-class opinion, with more than a hundred
thousand copies of a handbill about coercion being distributed.171 In
the run up to the demonstration, preliminary meetings of the London
radical clubs were held with the participation of labour and Home Rule
leaders including George Howell, Randall Cremer, T. P. Oâ€™Connor and
H. Labouchere. Coercion was described as a class device for making land
purchase inevitable, â€˜throw[ing] upon the English taxpayer the cost of
buying out the Irish landlordsâ€™,172 and â€˜a desperate effort of the oligarchy
to stifle the splendid possibilities of the democracyâ€™.173 Over the next few
held serious reservations, however. He agreed that â€˜[the] tenants are right in uniting &
they should do whatever they can to assist each other against being compelled to pay
impossible rents.â€™ Nevertheless, he dismissed the claim that â€˜the â€˜â€˜Plan of Campaignâ€™â€™ is
in principle â€˜â€˜identical with a strikeâ€™â€™â€™, as the latter â€˜is not necessarily a breach of contract.
When it is . . . it is illegal and punishable. Nor do I think the action of the government
bears any analogy to the attack on trade unions in the country some years ago. Unions
were then illegal.â€™ (T. Burt to W. T. Stead, 20 Dec. 1886, in W. T. Stead Papers, 1/12.)
For the official Liberal line see D. A. Hamer, John Morley: Liberal intellectual in politics
(1969), 237â€“8 and Barker, Gladstone and radicalism, 91.
L.a., â€˜The mark of the Coercion Billâ€™, RN, 28 May 1887, 4.
Cooke and Vincent, The governing passion, 79; cf. L. M. Geary, The Plan of Campaign,
1886â€“1891 (1986), 94.
Rep., â€˜The Hyde Park demonstrationâ€™, Cork Examiner, 7 Apr. 1887, 2.
Rep., â€˜Hyde Park demonstration against Coercionâ€™, RN, 3 Apr. 1887, 1.
L.a., â€˜To your tents, o Israelâ€™, RN, 8 Apr. 1887, 1.
84 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
days preparations for a large protest meeting were reported at great length
as the London Trades Council joined the agitation.174
Eventually, on 11 April, a bank holiday Monday, â€˜[f]avoured by bril-
liant weather, no less than by a firm faith in the justice of their cause, the
working men of the metropolis successfully carried through a gigantic
demonstrationâ€™. Combined Radical, Irish and socialist demonstrations â€“
an estimated total of about a hundred thousand people, although news-
papers reported radically different figures175 â€“ marched through London.
For an hour and a half a stream of societies, sporting colourful banners
and stirring mottoes, moved along Pall Mall, St Jamesâ€™s Street and
Piccadilly to Hyde Park Corner; while other contingents from the western
suburbs entered the park through the Marble Arch.
The bands played democratic tunes such as â€˜La Marseillaiseâ€™, â€˜Garry
Owenâ€™ and â€˜God save Irelandâ€™ (â€˜Tramp, trampâ€™), reflecting the ideolog-
ical outlook of the protesters who hailed from a number of different
radical and socialist societies. Their banners proclaimed â€˜No coercionâ€™
and â€˜Justice to Irelandâ€™ and the demonstrators paraded portraits and
statuettes of Gladstone, while the red flags of the socialist clubs were
interspersed with the more elaborate silk banners of trade unions such as
the stevedores and labour guilds of the East End, as well as with green
flags with Irish harps. Other mottoes â€˜denounc[ed] coercion, rack rents,
privilege, tyranny, and oppressionâ€™ and stated â€˜Salisbury is the symbol of
deathâ€™. One banner portrayed â€˜Salisburyâ€™s unionâ€™ â€“ â€˜two hands, un-joined
and fettered at the wristâ€™ â€“ and â€˜Gladstoneâ€™s Unionâ€™, showing â€˜two hands
joined in a grip of friendshipâ€™.176 The speakers included G. W. Foote the
secularist, Sexton for the Irish Nationalists, Henry Labouchere, Michael
Davitt and other radicals. Henry Broadhurst was the most eminent
labour spokesman. In his address he said that the people of London
â€˜had sympathized with the oppressed in all parts of the world â€“ with
Poles and Bulgarians, and with the Negroes when they were held in
slavery in the Southern States of America. That was because they knew
more of them than they knew about Ireland, but now they knew about the
Rep., â€˜The Coercion Bill: the Hyde Park demonstrationâ€™, RN, 10 Apr. 1887, 1.
â€˜I wonder how many people there really were in Hyde-park last Monday? The Daily
News says it was the largest demonstration of its kind ever held in London; the Daily
Telegraph, with a caution commendable in itself, but hardly tending to accurate inform-
ation, says there were between one and two hundred thousand present; the Times
declares fifty thousand a fair estimate; the Morning Post admits there were several
thousand there; and the Daily Chronicle affirms that the nucleus of the gathering was
small and thin.â€™ (â€˜Powder and shotâ€™, WT, 17 Apr. 1887, 9).
Rep., â€˜The anti-coercion meeting in Londonâ€™, RN, 17 Apr. 1887, 1.
Home Rule in context 85
wrongs of Ireland, and were determined to redress them.â€™ Introducing the
â€˜ministers of the Gospelâ€™ on the platform, he said that:
Heâ€™s true to God whoâ€™s true to man
Wherever wrong is done,
To the humblest and the weakest
â€™Neath the all-beholding sun.
The wrong is also done to us
And they are slaves and base
Whose love of right is for themselves,
And not for all their race.177
Reynoldsâ€™s hoped that the agitation would signal the beginning of the
end for landlordism not only in Ireland, but indeed throughout the British
Isles and world-wide. From being solely on behalf of justice for Ireland,
the Home Rule campaign was now expected to usher in â€˜the future British
republic, federal, social and democraticâ€™.178 In their usual hyperbolic
style, the editors boasted that the Home Rule agitation was the most
â€˜fatefulâ€™ movement â€˜since the martyrdom of Tiberius and Caius
Gracchus. It is a step towards the realization of the splendid day-dreams
of Kant, Mazzini, Victor Hugo, and Garibaldi, â€˜â€˜the United States of
Europeâ€™â€™ . . . The peoples are brothers, and nothing but the rascality of
their rulers keeps them apart.â€™179 The next step would be â€˜a vast English-
speaking Federation embracing enormous territories and populations in
every quarter of the inhabitable worldâ€™, not as a centralized empire but as a
â€˜true fraternal democratic ideaâ€™. For Reynoldsâ€™s this would eventually result
in a republican federation of Great Britain and Ireland, with Home Rule
for India and a wider confederation of â€˜Greater Britainâ€™ overseas, including
the USA, which continued to be romanticized as the land of equality and
democracy. Britain would transform its foreign policy, cease to be a
European Power and concentrate on its â€˜trans-oceanic interestsâ€™.180
Paradoxically, while celebrating the intercontinental nature of Britishness
and British interests, these democratic isolationists claimed that their
ultimate ideal was the Swiss Confederation, a tiny land-locked country.181
Ibid. 178 L.a., â€˜Before and afterâ€™, RN, 17 Apr. 1887, 1.
Ibid. This remained for a long time the hope expressed by Reynoldsâ€™s: cf. l.a., â€˜Balfourism
challengedâ€™, RN, 1 July 1888, 1: â€˜What the Tories and the Dissentient Liberals fail to
recognise is that the solidarity of the English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish democracies is
now an accomplished fact. The masses of the four Nationalities have been quick to learn
that their cause is one and indivisible, and that Ireland is the standard-bearer of a
L.a., â€˜Greater Britain and federationâ€™, RN, 15 May 1887, 1; Gracchus, â€˜India for the
Indiansâ€™, RN, 2 Sep. 1888, 2.
L.a., â€˜Liberal Unionism at Liverpoolâ€™, RN, 22 Dec. 1888, 1.
86 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
Gladstoneâ€™s eventual endorsement (1888) of a continued Irish pres-
ence at Westminster, which Parnell publicly accepted, further increased
radical interest in ideas of colonial federation. It is interesting that, while
contemporary Radical Unionists, especially in Scotland, shared many of
these ideas, they disagreed on the means to bring them about. What to
them were â€˜agitatorsâ€™, to the Home Rule imperial federalists were
â€˜Leaders of the democracyâ€™. These included Gavan Duffy and John
Dillon, but also, posthumously, the Young Irelander Thomas Davis.182
They praised Parnell as the Gladstone or Cavour of Ireland, pointing out
that â€˜[w]hile any National upheaval is too often accompanied with crime
and disorderâ€™, Parnell â€˜[had] striven to establish fair and Constitutional
methods of expressing the National desireâ€™.183 Edward Blake was another
of their heroes.184 It was because Blake really believed in â€˜Home Rule all
roundâ€™ that he was in high demand as a speaker at Liberal meetings in
England â€“ especially in London,185 but also in Birmingham (where he was
regarded as an â€˜antidoteâ€™ to Chamberlain) and Scotland.186 John Morley
summoned his help in Newcastle, explaining that â€˜we are likely to be very
hard pressed there, & a speech . . . from you would be of immense service to
meâ€™.187 Another correspondent confirmed that Blake had considerable
appeal also in Yorkshire: â€˜[your] letter of consenting to come has raised
the spirit of our party considerably . . . the fact of your name, influence and
presence could arouse an additional interest in the Labour party to hear
youâ€™.188 One Mrs M. S. Reid of the Womenâ€™s Liberal Association for
South Kensington wrote: â€˜I believe that an address from you would
â€˜Demonâ€™, â€˜Leaders of the democracyâ€™, RN, 10 Apr. 1887, 2. At a meeting in Dublin Mr
Clancy, MP, declared that â€˜except Mr Gladstone, there was no more popular man in
England than John Dillonâ€™ (rep., â€˜The National Leagueâ€™, Cork Examiner, 5 Jan. 1887, 3).
Dunbartonshire Liberal Association, 11 July 1889, NLS, Acc. 11765, 37.
E. L. Gales, Liberal Association for the Frome Division, Bath, to E. Blake, 11 Nov.
1892, in NLI, Blake Letters,  4685. Canada was the model for Home Rule not
because of its imperial connection to Britain, but because of the autonomy which each of
the provinces enjoyed in its relationship with Ottawa: E. Gales to Blake, 30 Apr. 1892,
ibid.,  4684. On Blake see Introduction, p. 33 and chapter 3, p. 123.
In the Blake Letters see those by F. Aylett, Hon. Sec. Peckham Liberal and Radical
Association, 8 Feb. 1893  4685; H. Morgan, Clapham Reform Club, 10 Feb. 1893
 4685; Mrs E. C. Fellows for the Hampstead Liberals, 19 Feb. 1893  4685.
See Blake Letters, NLI, ,  and  4685 (all for 1893).
J. Morley to E. Blake, 11 Aug. 1892, ibid.,  4683. Blake accepted immediately (14
Aug. 1892,  ibid.,). J. F. X. Oâ€™Brien, Executive Officer of the Irish National League of
Great Britain, invited him to speak in Newcastle again in 1895, adding that â€˜you would
have a magnificent meeting thereâ€™ (4 Feb. 1895, ibid., 4683). But this did not save
Morley from the ire of Joseph Cowen and his new SDF/ILP friends.
Alfred Walker, Borough of Huddersfield Parliamentary Election, Mr Wodeheadâ€™s
Candidature, Central Committee Rooms, 21 Jan. 1893, ibid.,  4685.
Home Rule in context 87
attract a large audience & be of great value.â€™189 C. P. Trevelyan was even
more enthusiastic, and writing to Blake about a speech which the latter had
given in Cambridge, reported that â€˜you seriously shook the faith of three
Tory friends . . . One of them became a member of the Liberal Club on the
spot.â€™190 At least one correspondent specified that it was Blakeâ€™s â€˜moder-
ation of demand and argumentâ€™ which was so appreciated, and stated
that â€˜Home Rule all roundâ€™ would have been â€˜logicalâ€™ from the start, and
hoped that the Irish MPs would not be withdrawn from Westminster
anyway.191 The latter point was strongly endorsed by Michael Davitt.192
J. F. X. Oâ€™Brien and E. Blake encouraged the Irish in Britain to
get involved in the Liberal party and organize joint demonstrations
with them. The invitation was often accepted with enthusiasm. Close
co-operation between the Irish National League of Great Britain
(INLGB) and the Liberals was commonplace, and some INLGB mem-
bers â€“ both men and women â€“ rose to prominent leadership roles in local
Liberal caucuses. A good example was the president of the Clapham
branch of the INLGB, E. W. McGuinness, who believed that Liberal
demonstrations were more useful than Irish ones and â€˜acted upon [this
view] . . . on every occasion. As a matter of fact I am a member of the
Liberal and Radical Association and a Vice President of the Council of
300 [i.e. the local caucus assembly].â€™193
At the end of August 1887 another demonstration was called in
London to protest against the proclamation of the National League, but
it was not as successful as the previous events.194 The radical campaign
was rekindled by the Mitchelstown â€˜massacreâ€™ (9 September 1887), in
which three people were killed when the police opened fire to stem a riot.
In England the episode renewed memory of the 1817 â€˜Peterloo massacreâ€™
and further contributed to strengthening the â€˜classâ€™ dimension of the
agitation against Balfourâ€™s â€˜sanguinary reign of terrorâ€™.195 Gladstone
famously denounced the behaviour of the constabulary, who â€˜ought to
Mrs M. S. Reid to E. Blake, 22 Feb. 1893, ibid.,  4685.
C.P. Trevelyan to E. Blake, 22 Feb. 1893 (from Dublin Castle), ibid.,  4685.
E. L. Gales, Liberal Association for the Frome Division, to E. Blake, 15 Feb. 1893, ibid.,
Davitt, The settlement of the Irish question. A speech by Mr Michael Davitt, MP, on
Apr. 11th, 1893 in the House of Commons, â€˜Authorised editionâ€™ as a penny pamphlet
(1893), 11â€“2 (Gladstone Library, Bristol Univ. Library).
E. W. McGuinness to E. Blake, 3 Feb. 1893, in NLI, Blake Letters  4685.
For contrasting accounts see â€˜Monster demonstration of London radicals in Trafalgar-
squareâ€™, FJ, 29 Aug. 1887, 5 and â€˜Demonstration in Trafalgar-squareâ€™, LW, 28 Aug.
L.a., â€˜The reign of terror in Irelandâ€™, RN, 18 Sept. 1887, 1 and â€˜Remember