of popular nationalism â€“ Michael Davitt â€“ was basically a social radical
in the Tom Paine tradition, a crusader against â€˜feudalismâ€™.5 Contem-
porary biographies stressed his commitment to the establishment of
peasant proprietorship, the â€˜[e]xclusion of all sectarian issues from the
[Nationalist] platformâ€™ and the â€˜[a]dvocacy of all struggling nationalities
in the British Empire and elsewhereâ€™.6 Following in the footsteps of many
British land reformers, in 1880 he visited France and Belgium to collect
firsthand evidence about yeoman farming in those countries, which
J. S. Mill and others had upheld as models of land tenure.7 In prison in
1881â€“2, Davitt had the opportunity of reading extensively. Besides Henry
George, he devoted his attention almost exclusively to French, British
and Irish Liberal historians and social scientists: Thiers, Thierry, Guizot,
Macaulay, Lecky, Herbert Spencer, Thorold Rogers, Emile de Laveleye,
Joseph Kay (about free trade in land) and especially John Stuart Mill.8
His views were reflected in Land League publications and rhetoric, which
cited Herbert Spencer, Henry Fawcett and even Bonamy Price in support
of subversive land reform.9 Both Mill and other liberal thinkers â€“ in
particular the Prussian von Hardenberg â€“ were important influences on
other Land League agitators, such as T. Brennan.10
Moreover, with the mass of Irish Nationalists Davitt shared a commit-
ment to temperance, artisan education,11 self-help and the individualist
virtues of the independent farmer. Here, again, there was common
ground between British and Irish radicals. All held that the golden rule
See his speech in the report of the Land Law Reform meeting at St Jamesâ€™s Hall in
February 1880 and the speeches delivered by A. Besant and C. Bradlaugh, in The
National Reformer, 22 Feb. 1880, 114â€“16; and newscutting from DN, 28 Feb. 1882, in
J. Chamberlain Papers, B253; cf. Davitt, The fall of feudalism.
Cashman, Michael Davitt, 72.
T. W. Moody, Davitt and the Irish revolution, 1846â€“82 (1981), 509â€“12, 515; Cashman,
Michael Davitt, 219; cf. L. Kennedy, â€˜The economic thought of the nationâ€™s lost leader:
Charles Stewart Parnellâ€™, in Boyce and Oâ€™Day, Parnell in Perspective, 174.
Moody, Davitt, 504; M. Davitt, Leaves from a prison diary (1885; 1972), 105â€“12; Davitt,
Fall of feudalism, 161.
Moody, Davitt, 522â€“8. National League Poster in Hefferman Papers, NAI, MS 21,910.
The Spencer text was Social Statics, chapter 9, section 2; Bonamy Price was cited on rent,
and Henry Fawcett on freedom of contract.
Davitt, Fall of feudalism, 410.
Rep., â€˜Mr Davitt and Mr Healy, MP, on social reformâ€™, FJ, 11 Oct. 1882, 3.
110 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
of good government was its cheapness, and accepted the Gladstonian
â€˜moral dutyâ€™ of meeting deficits with adequate revenue.12 All were fiercely
critical of the National Debt as well as â€˜over-taxationâ€™ â€“ which the British
perceived as a consequence of â€˜class legislationâ€™, and the Irish in terms of
national oppression.13 Both identified the cause of these financial and
fiscal evils with that old bogey of all radicals, the â€˜Norman yokeâ€™ and the
iniquitous effects of â€˜baronialâ€™ primogeniture.14 The abolition of â€˜land-
lordismâ€™ was going to be the first step towards the building of a fairer
society for the man who worked for his living; it would usher in peasant
proprietorship, the ultimate utopia of self-help economics. In Oliver
MacDonaghâ€™s words, the Irish small farmer emerged as â€˜the final convert
and devotee of Political Economyâ€™.15
Thus, though the Nationalist agrarian programme implied an unpre-
cedented degree of state interference with property rights, such interven-
tion was not perceived as a first step towards a new â€˜socialistâ€™ philosophy
of government. Rather, it was â€˜intervention to end all interventionâ€™ â€“
a mere â€˜exceptionâ€™ to the otherwise staunchly upheld rule of laissez-faire â€“
and would create the conditions for effective self-help. The â€˜exceptionâ€™
was justified by the argument that â€˜landlordismâ€™, the last embodiment of
feudalism, was a problem of a political â€“ rather than merely social and
economic â€“ nature. Its solution required not only an alteration of the
land laws, but also a series of political and constitutional reforms. In
Britain these included the â€˜mending or endingâ€™ of the House of Lords;
in Ireland, a Home Rule Parliament; in both countries, the extension of
political rights to all â€˜independentâ€™ adult men. While insisting on the
â€˜constitutional rightsâ€™ of the Irish people â€“ the right of free speech and
meeting, for example, against coercion and special police powers â€“ the
Nationalists demanded participation and self-government as ends in
themselves, as well as the means whereby good government could be
ensured. Like the Chartists in Britain in the late 1830s, Irish Nationalists
in the 1880s expected all sorts of economic and social improvements from
the establishment of a government â€˜of the people, by the people and for
L.a., FJ, 12 Mar. 1880, 4.
T. M. Healy, â€˜The Irish parliamentary partyâ€™, Fortnightly Review, 32, NS (Julyâ€“December
(1882)), 629; Cashman, Life of Michael Davitt, 137.
E.g. Cashman, Life of Michael Davitt, 127â€“8; cf. C. Hill, â€˜The Norman yokeâ€™, in J. Saville
(ed.), Democracy and the labour movement (London, 1954), 15â€“46; Biagini, Liberty, 50â€“60.
O. MacDonagh, States of mind: a study of Anglo-Irish conflict 1780â€“1930 (London, 1983),
42; D. Jordan, â€˜The Irish National League and the â€˜â€˜unwritten lawâ€™â€™: rural protest and
nation building in Ireland, 1882â€“1890â€™, Past & Present, no. 158 (1998), 149; for the
importance of the culture of self-help, see Kissane, Explaining Irish democracy, 88â€“9.
Constitutional Nationalism and popular liberalism 111
the peopleâ€™.16 They were adamant that such government should aim at
â€˜the parliamentary regeneration of the countryâ€™.17 Not surprisingly, as
early as 1880â€“1 Henry Labouchere thought that the Nationalists were
â€˜sound on most radical issuesâ€™ and that â€˜the Democracy of England and
Ireland ought to uniteâ€™ in a campaign for land reform and devolution and
to drive the Whigs from the Liberal party.18
James Loughlin has rightly stressed the role of extremist nationalism in
confusing moderate opinion in both Ireland and Britain and has criticized
the Irish partyâ€™s â€˜reluctance, or inability, to define exactly what Home
Rule meantâ€™.19 Indeed as late as Christmas 1885 Parnell complained that
â€˜public expression of opinion on our side . . . has been tending to show
that we ourselves are not agreed on what we wantâ€™.20 However, as
D. George Boyce has shown, the main problem was not really lack of
â€˜definitionâ€™, but that different, competing definitions of Home Rule were
presented by different spokesmen at different times, to serve the rhetor-
ical needs of the moment.21 At one level this was hardly surprising: as
T. M. Healy pointed out in 1882, the Irish party saw little scope in
producing a draft Home Rule Bill if the government was not prepared
even to discuss the issue in principle. Moreover, the defenders of the
Union were equally vague, and their cry against the â€˜Dismemberment of
the Empireâ€™ served to cloud the issue, as much as to clarify their stance.22
Yet, among the pre-1886 definitions of Home Rule, the notion of
parliamentary self-government within the British Empire had been ela-
borated as early as 1873 and popularized by Isaac Butt. It was further
discussed in 1880 by William Shaw, then leader of the Irish party, in
response to Lord Beaconsfieldâ€™s manifesto. Anticipating a line which
would be adopted by the Liberals in 1886, Shaw argued that â€˜[w]e
mean by Home Rule not that the connections between the two countries
should be destroyed, but that the relationship may be based on a healthy
and natural and honest basisâ€™. In his view, â€˜[t]he country wants a
Government that will preserve the integrity of the Empire, not by attemp-
ted repression and reaction, but by dispensing strict and impartial justice
to all classes, and to all parts of the Empireâ€™.23 Though in 1880â€“2
the Parnellites voiced a far more robust and oppositional political style,
Rep., â€˜Nationalist Convention in Farmaghâ€™, FJ, 10 Jan. 1885, 6, speech by F. Mayne, MP.
From the first resolution, â€˜Nationalist Convention in Farmaghâ€™, FJ, 10 Jan. 1885, 6.
Hind, Henry Labouchere, 86, 88â€“9. 19 Loughlin, Gladstone, 31â€“4.
C. S. Parnell to E. Dwyer Gray, 24 Dec. 1885, in T. W. Moody, â€˜Select documents:
Parnell and the Galway election of 1886â€™, Irish Historical Studies, 8, 33 (1954), 332.
D. G. Boyce, Nationalism in Ireland (1991), 216.
T. M. Healy, â€˜The Irish parliamentary partyâ€™, Fortnightly Reivew, 32, n.s. (1882), 627.
W. Shaw, â€˜The general electionâ€™, FJ, 19 Mar. 1880, 5.
112 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
the substance of their programme was little different, focusing on
â€˜Parliamentary, Municipal, Poor Law, Grand Jury, and Registration
reforms, the development of the Land Act, and some species of Self-
governmentâ€™,24 the latter consisting of elected county councils and a
â€˜National Assemblyâ€™ on the model of colonial Parliaments.25 Such under-
standing of Home Rule combined an old tradition (the revival of
â€˜Grattanâ€™s Parliamentâ€™) with the Canadian example and more recent
â€˜Britannic libertiesâ€™ â€“ the latter embodied by the American republican
tradition, with which emigration had long established strong links.26
It was precisely this understanding of Home Rule that was supported by
the Lib-labs and a few Radical MPs from as early as 1874 â€“ as we have
seen in the previous chapter. In fact, contemporaries were aware that
there was much common ground between Liberals and Nationalists. As
T. M. Healy argued in 1883, at a meeting in Newcastle upon Tyne,
the connection between Ireland and the Liberal party had always been a close
one. Indeed he might say that all the great measures which had been passed for
the benefit of the English people had been caused by means of the Irish alliance,
the alliance between the Liberals and the Irish members. When he mentioned the
Liberal party he had to make a distinction . . . There were a number of Liberals at
the head of affairs who had no claim whatever to the distinction of leading
Parliament . . . Then there was Mr Chamberlain, a gentleman for whom he had
the highest possible respect, and who if he continued to be assaulted by the
calumny of his enemies and continued to deserve the enmity of those by whom
he was antagonised, would, he (Mr Healy) ventured to say, be the future Premier
of England . . . the Liberal party was not directed by those who ought to govern it,
and . . . the men who were sincerely anxious to do justice to the people of Ireland,
whose hearts pulsated with the masses of the people were completely out-
weighted. It was because of this state of affairs that the Irish party was at war
with the Liberal party, and he ventured to say they should continue to be at war
until there was infused into the Liberal Cabinet a few more men of the same type
as Mr Chamberlain.27
While this rhetoric was partly motivated by Healyâ€™s wish to propitiate
Chamberlain â€“ then perceived as one of the most pro-Home Rule Liberal
leaders â€“ its content was consistent with that emanating from other
Nationalist sources and statements. Healy concluded that, â€˜[w]ith the
exception of Coercion, there is scarcely any measure that the Liberals
may force through with which the Irish party will not be in political
Healy, â€˜The Irish parliamentary partyâ€™, 626.
Ibid., 630â€“1; Davitt, Leaves from a prison diary, 251â€“4.
C. B. Shannon, Arthur J. Balfour and Ireland, 1874â€“1922 (1988), 14.
T. M. Healy, cited in rep., â€˜Mr Healy, MP, and the Liberal Partyâ€™, FJ, 14. Sep. 1883, 2.
Constitutional Nationalism and popular liberalism 113
sympathy . . . So far as concerns legislation . . . the only principle dividing
the Liberals and the Irish is Home Rule.â€™28
Though Nationalist commitment to denominational education in
schools and universities was actually a further major issue of disagree-
ment with English Liberals, Healy did have a point here: after all, Scottish
Liberals were divided over the issue, as we have seen in the previous
chapter, and Gladstone had reformed, not abolished, denominational
(Presbyterian) education in Scottish schools in 1872. In principle, at
least, the case of Catholic education was similar. Moreover, for the
Nationalists the introduction of sectarian education was not tantamount
to the creation of a new ecclesiastical establishment because their com-
mitment to such education also included the defence and preservation of
Presbyterian and other Protestant institutions, such as the Queenâ€™s
Colleges.29 And if the Nationalists assumed a close link between
Catholicism and the people of Ireland, as Boyce has pointed out, â€˜it was
the liberal Gladstone who . . . described the Nonconformists of Wales as
â€˜â€˜the people of Walesâ€™â€™ â€™.30 On the other hand, the INL, as much as the
Land League before it, was careful to present the Nationalist movement
â€˜in secular and non-sectarian termsâ€™.31 In this endeavour, they were
helped by the fact that from 1869 church and state in Ireland were
actually independent of one another, a constitutional feature that had
important political and ideological implications.
As Gladstone had anticipated, disestablishment was a blessing in dis-
guise for the Episcopalian Church, also because the tithe issue â€“ which
was to cause serious unrest in Wales in the 1880s â€“ had long been settled
in Ireland.32 Thus, when the land agitation began in 1879, it was directed
against secular landlords â€“ whether Roman Catholic or Protestant â€“ and
did not develop a sectarian, anti-Anglican agenda. Of course, both before
and after 1869, claims of clerical interference in Irish elections were
frequent and well documented, but involved the Catholic, rather than
the Anglican, clergy.33 However, the situation in Ireland was very
Healy, â€˜The Irish parliamentary partyâ€™, 625, 627.
L.a., United Ireland, 17 July 1886, 4. 30 Boyce, Nationalism in Ireland, 220.
P. Bull, Land, politics and nationalism (1996), 74.
A. Jackson, â€˜Irish Unionism, 1870â€“1922â€™, in D. George Boyce and A. Oâ€™Day (eds.),
Defenders of the Union (2001), 118.
Hoppen, Elections, politics and society, 158â€“60, 232â€“56. On the other hand, Protestant
tenants in the North-East, although famously self-assertive in dealing with their land-
lords, did not generally identify with the Land League, which they perceived as a Catholic
and Nationalist organization. And, of course, the polarization of Irish society which
followed the land agitation was based on confessional allegiances: D. Haire, â€˜In aid of
the civil power, 1868â€“1890â€™, in F. S. L. Lyons and R. A. J. Hawkins (eds.), Ireland under
the Union: varieties of tension (1980), 115â€“48.
114 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
different from that in either France or Italy â€“ the two countries where anti-
clericalism was at the time most virulent â€“ or indeed in Britain. In both
Italy and France the Roman Catholic Church was associated with the
ancien regime by means of personal and political links between members of
the hierarchy and the â€˜blackâ€™ or legitimist aristocracy. Moreover, even
after the sale of monastic lands, the church retained considerable wealth
and influence, and in fact was establishing itself in the world of banking
and insurance. In Britain the Church of England was both part of the
â€˜constitutionâ€™ and a powerful landowner, while many of its ministers
behaved as village squires who felt confident of their role at the centre
of the national establishment. These social and political attributes were
resented by the Nonconformists, especially in Wales. In fact, as we have
seen in the previous chapter, the Welsh â€˜tithe warâ€™ gave rise to scenes of
total alienation between the people and those expected to enforce the law,
with army and police columns patrolling the Welsh countryside, in the