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proposal), a practically self-constituted executive, I say, frame a report
and yearly, in secret conclave, determine the resolutions that are to be
voted at the great annual assembly.™106 He proposed a series of amend-
ments to encourage and allow effective debate and to encourage the
submission of competing diverse proposals. Similar concerns were shared
by many other radicals within and without the NLF, including the post-
Chartist Morrison Davidson, who advocated the introduction of the ˜sec-
ond ballot™. The latter would allow electors to choose between candidates

Barker, Gladstone and radicalism, 163. Cf. W. E Gladstone, ˜The future policy of the
Liberal party, Newcastle, October 2, 1891™, in A. W. Hutton and H. J. Cohen (eds.), The
speeches of the Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone (1902), esp. 383“5.
Barker, Gladstone and radicalism, 197“8; see Gladstone™s speech (at an NLF meeting in
London) in Ti, 12 Dec. 1891, 7; he alluded to the issue the following year: HPD, 4th
series, 24 Mar. 1892, 1711.
Letter, ˜The National Liberal Federation™, WT&E, 10 Oct. 1891, 6.
Radicalism and the caucus in Britain and Ireland 189

in preparation for an election and would obviate ˜any necessity for the
anti-Democratic institution of the Caucus, which usurps the functions of
the constituencies by limiting their choice of candidates™.107
They had a point, especially in so far as the proceedings and operation
of local caucuses were often dominated by an elite of notables and pro-
fessional party agents. For example, the address presented to Gladstone
in 1890 by the Dunbartonshire Liberal Association (DLA) was prepared
by the secretary (a paid official) and approved by two other members of
the Executive Committee.108 The rules of the association were modified to
ensure that wealthy party benefactors would sit on the General Committee.
The latter now consisted not only of elected representatives, but also of
an indefinite number of ˜gentlemen who are liberal subscribers to the
[party] funds™ co-opted by the Executive Committee.109 While this rule
made the association more elitist, it is interesting that it was introduced in
1889 to compensate for the allegedly excessive internal democracy, which
excluded the very men on whose money the DLA survived.110 The
association™s General Council consisted of about 190 representatives
(in 1889), elected by the Liberals throughout the county. At their general
meeting they selected the constituency™s parliamentary candidate on the
recommendation of the selection and executive committees.111 There is
little evidence of popular participation in the proceedings, except in times
of crisis such as the Parnell split: the Special General Meeting convened
to reassert confidence in Gladstone™s leadership and Irish policy attracted
˜a large attendance of delegates [and] specially appointed delegates from
nearly every part of the County™.112 However, the DLA did not devote
much time to discussion and was primarily a registration machine, oper-
ating in a highly competitive environment within which the Unionists
seemed to have the advantage of more numerous and better-funded
agents.113 In 1889“92 its officials worked hard to improve its funding,
management and propaganda activities, turning it into an even more
professional organization, within which the party agents played an

J. Morrison Davidson, ˜Progressive programme™, WT&E, 7 July 1895, 6.
DLA, 14 Oct. 1890, NLS, Acc.11765/37.
DLA, Report of the Executive Committee at the Annual Meeting, 29 Jan. 1889, ibid.
The clause seems to have achieved its aim (the DLA accounts improved steadily), but
was quietly repealed in the 1890s, when the DLA reverted to a system under which all
members of the executive were to be elected: ˜Constitution and rules™, printed text
included in DLA, Minutes of the Annual general Meeting, 14 Mar. 1898, NLS,
Acc. 11765/37.
DLA, Meeting of the Annual Meeting of the General Committee, 29 Jan. 1889, ibid.
DLA, Minutes of Special General Meeting of the General Committee, 15 Oct.
1891, ibid.
Report of the Registration Committee, 28 Jan. 1889, ibid.
190 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

important role under the close scrutiny of the Executive Committee. The
kind of popular involvement which was increasingly desired was for the
purpose of canvassing and ˜proselytizing™ electors.114 The reality of local
caucus politics was quite different from the national rhetoric of the party
as the Liberal ekklesia outside the imperial Parliament.

The Irish model
It is proposed to form an association to be known as ˜The Irish National League™,
an association which is . . . to concentrate into a single movement the scattered and
various lines of action by which it has hitherto sought to advance the national
cause. This body is to have what in the convenient American phrase we
may describe as a platform resting on five planks “ National Self-Government,
Land Law Reform, Local Self-Government, extension of the Parliamentary and
Municipal Franchises, the development and encouragement of the Labour and
Industrial Interests of Ireland.115
With these words in October 1882 the Freeman™s Journal announced the
foundation of the Irish National League (INL), the first modern ˜mass
organization™ of the Irish National party. It replaced the Land League and
tried to incorporate other popular organizations, such as the Labour and
Industrial Union and the Home Rule League. The constitution allowed
for the formation of branches ˜in parishes in the country, and in wards in
the cities and towns™, run by a committee elected annually. Branches
would collect subscriptions (˜1s. for every £5 valuation™) and 75 per cent
of all subscriptions would be forwarded to the Central Council. By secret
ballots local delegates would be elected to annual county conventions,116
which would select parliamentary candidates and discuss (or rather ratify)
proposals. The ruling council would consist of forty-eight members:
˜thirty-two to be elected by county conventions, one for each county,
and sixteen by the Irish parliamentary party™.117
With its emphasis on county conventions, the INL drew on a long Irish
tradition, stretching back into the eighteenth century and especially to the
O™Connell movement before the Famine. But in the context of the 1880s,
the railway network and the printing press allowed for a degree of

See the Secretary™s Annual Reports, General Meeting of the General Committee, DLA,
23 Feb. 1892 and 6 Feb. 1896, ibid. For the situation in England cf. Rix, ˜The party
agent and English electoral culture™, 258“9 and Moore, Transformation of urban
L.a., FJ, 16 Oct. 1882, 4. Cf. Address of the Irish National League:to the People of Ireland, in
Heffernan Papers, NLI, MS 21,910, acc. 1921 and drafts in Parnell letters 8581 (3).
The Irish National League, ˜Rules for branches™, in Heffernan Papers, MS 21,910,
acc. 1921.
˜The constitution of the Irish National League™, ibid.
Radicalism and the caucus in Britain and Ireland 191

organization and centralization which were quite unprecedented. The
INL transformed the Home Rule movement ˜from a loose conglomera-
tion of independent and sometimes discrepant elements into a well-knit
political party of a modern type, existing at four levels “ the local branch,
the county convention, the organising committee, and the parliamentary
party “ and effectively monopolizing the political expression of the
national sentiment™.118 In this respect it succeeded in achieving effective
national co-ordination, one of the aims that the leaders of the NLF
had always unsuccessfully pursued. Success was consolidated by the
INL™s rapid growth “ from 242 branches in January 1884, to 592
branches in 1885, and 1,286 branches in 1886, equivalent to one branch
for every Roman Catholic parish in Ireland.119 However, the cost of this
achievement “ in terms of democratic deficit and internal party strife “
was considerable, and confirmed the difficulty of combining a demo-
cratic, participatory ideology with the requirements of a mass party
Until the INL was established, Ireland did not have any equivalent of a
real ˜party machine™. In the general elections of 1874 and 1880 the
selection of candidates had been carried out in different ways according
to local customs. These included, in some constituencies, ˜ad hoc meet-
ings of ˜˜the clergy and laity™™ summoned by the bishop or some other
influential ecclesiastic; in others . . . meetings of electors convened by the
lord mayor . . . in a third category, the nomination was decided, provi-
sionally or finally, by some permanent political body representing nation-
alist opinion™.120 There was no co-ordination between such local clubs
and associations: they were all autonomous and unaccountable to any
central headquarters. They could, if they so wished, involve themselves in
the preparation and revision of the register of electors, in the organization
of meetings, and in other electoral activities. However, they could also
limit themselves to endorsing local candidates, towards whom the system
continued to be biased.121 The Irish National Land League “ which was
established in Dublin in October 1879, with Parnell as its first president “
was far from being the party™s mass organization. In fact, it refused to
provide either financial help (except within very limited terms) or organ-
izational support in the constituencies. Though in 1880 it helped to
create enthusiasm for Parnell, it was not committed to, or even primarily
interested in, Home Rule as a programme. Rather, it was always eager to
assert its independence from the parliamentary party, which it suspected

Cruise O™Brien, Parnell and his Party, 133.
Garvin, Evolution of Irish nationalist politics, 89.
Cruise O™Brien, Parnell and his Party, 125. 121 Ibid., 126.
192 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

of ˜Whiggism™ (from a Fenian, revolutionary standpoint), because of its
devotion to constitutionalism.
However, while the Land League had been almost revolutionary in its
methods, the INL rested “ at least in theory, and in the opinions expressed
by the rank and file “ on a radical programme not dissimilar from that
which inspired popular liberals in Britain. With popular liberalism it shared
not only the radical agrarian ideal “ embodied in the commitment to the
establishment of peasant proprietorship122 “ and the democratic outlook
discussed in the previous chapter, but also a strong emphasis on parlia-
mentary politics. It was based on an internal representative system consist-
ing of branches, county conventions and a national council. As in the case
of the NLF, the definition of the constitutional relationship between the
parliamentary party and the representatives of the local constituency par-
ties was a permanently contentious issue.
At the inaugural conference, which met in Dublin on 17 October, two
positions emerged quite distinctly. The radical democrat Michael Davitt,
supported by several county delegates and a few MPs, demanded a
popularly elected council. The parliamentary elite “ represented by
T. M. Healy, T. P. O™Connor and Parnell himself “ demanded that ten
out of thirty council seats be reserved to MPs, chosen by their peers.123
Healy argued that county representation would not provide an adequate
composition of the council, because ˜there [were] many counties . . . in
which you would not be able to get one man fit to sit in the executive™.
Such ˜backward counties™ should not have imposed on them the ˜burden™
of representation, which was best if left in the hands of ˜men trained to
public affairs™.124 Surprisingly, Healy™s elitist statement “ uttered only
two years before the extension of the franchise to farm labourers “ did not
generate any uproar.125 However, a lively debate ensued a little later,
when Davitt put what might be regarded as the opposite view. Concerned
about the representative legitimacy and the accountability of the INL,
and hoping to achieve the integration of the Protestant counties in the
movement through equal representation, Davitt proposed that the coun-
cil should consist of thirty-two popularly elected county representatives,

O™Day, Parnell and the first Home Rule episode, 43.
˜Thirty members, twenty to be elected by county conventions, and ten by the Irish
Parliamentary party. The branches in each county shall send delegates to the County
Convention; and each delegate shall cast his vote for the candidate nominated to the
Central Council in manner provided by the rules. Members of Parliament shall be
ineligible for election to the Council by a County Convention.™ (˜The National
Conference,™ FJ, 16 Oct. 1882, 3.)
Ibid., 6.
Though others insisted that ˜we should leave nothing [i.e. indirect parliamentary elec-
tion] between the people and their representatives™ (Mr Metge, MP, ibid.).
Radicalism and the caucus in Britain and Ireland 193

one for each Irish county. MPs could stand for election, if they so wished,
but were not entitled to any seats qua MPs. Davitt stressed that it was
important that ˜all distinctions between non-members and members of
Parliament will be ended™. His proposal, if adopted, would have made the
National League fairly similar to the NLF: a popularly elected extra-
parliamentary body, constitutionally weighed with a view to defending
local rights and minorities, and entrusted with the power to discuss and
even formulate party policies. His proposal proved unacceptable to the
majority of the parliamentarians. While localism was anathema to Healy,
who ˜relentlessly championed a centralised nationalism against the claims
of local organisations and favourite sons™,126 both Parnell and Healy were
determined to preserve the leader™s authority.
At this stage one of the clerical delegates (the Revd O™Leary) shifted the
focus of the discussion by objecting to equal county representation on
what purported to be democratic grounds:
I was astonished that Mr Davitt, who has travelled in America, would ask for
representation for every county as being for Republican and Democratic
reasons . . . In the Congress of the United States were all States represented by
the same number of delegates? Surely they are not. Let the system of represen-
tation be . . . according to branches, and if there be say 100 branches in one, and
300 in another, let there be three men selected in the latter case and one in the
former. I call that democratic and republican.127

However, it soon became clear that O™Leary™s real aim was to limit
Protestant influence and strengthen the parliamentary “ as against the
direct representation “ option: ˜The selection made in this matter should
be representative and efficient. If we allow the Irish parliamentary party to
select ten members to be on that council, neither Mr O™Donnell, nor Mr
Davitt, nor any other can say they are not a representative body. This
secures at least a fair representation.™ Eventually, another delegate pro-
posed a compromise: council should consist of thirty-two popularly
elected county representatives, plus sixteen MPs nominated by the par-
liamentary party. While the assembly deliberated the pros and cons of
these competing proposals, and many voiced their admiration for

Callanan, Healy, 96. Thus, as late as 1885 Healy could publicly proclaim that the
electoral aim of the nationalists was ˜to efface and blot out every local distinction and
recognise only the interests of the country at large™. Such an attitude would have been
rejected as outrageous if anyone had dared to propose it at an NLF meeting. It was less
controversial in the Irish party, both because Ireland was a much smaller country than
Britain, and because the INL was comparatively homogeneous “ in political and social
terms “ so long as the overarching aim was the achievement of a Parliament in Dublin.
Revd O™Leary, ˜The National Conference,™ FJ, 16 Oct. 1882, 3.
194 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

Davitt, T. P. O™Connor rose to speak. He turned the tables by transfor-
ming the issue of parliamentary nominations into one of confidence:


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