. 42
( 80 .)


1868, he did not seek re-election and declined the offer of other consti-
tuencies. However, he remained in great demand as a popular speaker, to
the extent that, as Stefan Collini has put it, ˜the 66-year-old philosopher
on the stump [threatened] to out-Gladstone Gladstone™.243 Like the
latter in his post-1876 mood, Mill believed that platform speech-making
was the most effective way whereby the modern ˜philosopher™ could
address the national ˜ekklesia™ of public opinion, fully exploiting both
the press and the suggestibility of mass demonstrations. To him this
had nothing to do with demagogy: the contemporary liberal conviction
was that rhetoric was the midwife of truth and the counterpart of logic, a

Matthew, Gladstone 1875“1898, 50.
W. J. Mommsen, The age of bureaucracy: perspectives on the political sociology of Max Weber
(1974), 91.
G. Watson, The English ideology: studies in the language of Victorian politics (1973),
Mill, Considerations, 458. 241 Ibid., 460.
Kinzer et al., A moralist in and out of parliament.
S. Collini, Public moralists: political thought and intellectual life in Britain, 1850“1890
(1991), 167“9.
216 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

view consonant with Mill™s Aristotelian understanding of active
The NLF was steeped in this frame of mind. Indeed if Home Rule
contributed to NLF discipline, rhetoric and charisma were the elements
which cemented together the various components of the party.245 If the
problem of political communication admitted of two types of solution “
either organizational or rhetorical246 “ the NLF managed to combine
both. As a party organization it tried to embody the ideal of a civically
minded, permanently deliberating Demos. Within the party, as in the
Athenian ekklesia, emphasis on equality and independence, and the
rejection of both deference and bureaucratic encroachment, meant that
only ˜the magic of direct rhetoric™ could ˜engage mass opinion™.247
Anarchistic and restless like the ancient ekklesia, the Liberal party organi-
zation required its Themistocles and Pericles. Internal cohesion
depended on the leader™s personal prestige and powers of persuasion,248
the only means whereby he could win over both MPs and the ˜mass party™
assembly. This also meant that non-charismatic leaders, or divisions
within the leadership, could affect the Liberals much more seriously
than any other party, as was illustrated by the electoral disasters of
1895“1900 and, on a larger scale, of 1916“23. Despite the NLF™s repu-
tation as the cutting edge in ˜caucus™ and ˜machine™ politics, the real
problem with the Liberal party was not lack of ideas and programmes,
but inadequate organization.

H. C. G Matthew, ˜Gladstone, rhetoric and politics™, 34; in P. J. Jagger (ed.) Gladstone
(1998), 213“34, Biagini, ˜Liberalism and direct democracy™.
Matthew, Gladstone, 93. 246 Ibid., 43.
C. S. Meier, ˜Democracy since the French Revolution™, in J. Dunn (ed.), Democracy: the
unfinished journey, 508 BC to AD 1993 (1992), 150.
Matthew, Gladstone, 93.
5 Joseph and his brethren: the rise and fall
of Radical Unionism

[S]urely it were better to regard these islands as forming but one nation
and let each man, whatever his nationality, have such share of the
common inheritance as he shows himself fitted for.1
The loss of Chamberlain alone was an immeasurable disaster; his
influence with the democracy had for some time past exceeded
Gladstone™s . . . In any case, the energy of a Parliament created for social
reform was to be spent on prolonged struggle over a subject which had
formed no part of the election programme. Working men would find
that their devotion had been thrown away, their confidence abused, the
promised reforms to which they gave their votes postponed indefinitely,
if not altogether sacrificed, to a measure of which no one among them
had ever heard.2

The rising hope of those stern and unbending
Radicals, 1882“6
Chamberlain™s 1885 pre-election tour of Scotland was a triumph. In the
electoral campaign itself he ˜out-Midlothianed™ Gladstone.3 Although he
avoided the open-air speeches at which the GOM excelled, preferring
carefully stage-managed meetings in public halls, his rhetoric was
˜electrifying™ and left an indelible mark on the then rising generation of
radicals such as Augustine Birrell and Lloyd George. ˜I still remember™ “
wrote Ramsay MacDonald in 1914, recalling Chamberlain™s speech in
Glasgow of 15 September 1885 ˜as if it were but yesterday™ the thrill of
pleasure which went through Radical Scotland . . . Its bold audacity
struck the imagination of the country.™4 Perhaps the most memorable

˜A Congregationalist minister™, The Liberal Unionist, 4 May 1887, 93.
Tuckwell, Reminiscences of a Radical parson, 59“60.
D. Judd, Radical Joe (1977), 123; cf. Garvin, Joseph Chamberlain, vol. I, 391, 393, 395,
vol. II, 106; Marsh, Chamberlain, 167, 174, 203, 206.
J. Ramsay MacDonald, in Lord Milner et al., Life of Joseph Chamberlain (1914), 164.

218 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

description of his hold on the crowd was recorded by Beatrice Webb
(then Beatrice Potter):
As he rose slowly, and stood silently before his people, his whole face and form
seemed transformed. The crowd became wild with enthusiasm . . . Perfectly still
stood the people™s Tribune, till the people, exhausted and expectant, gradually
subsided into fitful and murmuring cries. At the first sound of his voice they
became as one man. Into the tone of his voice he threw the warmth of feeling,
which was lacking in his words; and every thought, every feeling, the slightest
intonation of irony and contempt was reflected on the face of the crowd. It might
have been a woman listening to the words of her lover! Perfect response and
unquestioning receptivity.5
Obviously Chamberlain knew how to ˜work™ the crowds, but this
˜unquestioning receptivity™ was not simply the result of his charisma. It
was also a response to his gospel of popular emancipation, which seemed
consistent with Gladstonian liberalism while going beyond it, almost its
natural extension and the fulfilment of the expectations of justice and fair
play which Gladstone had aroused.6 Ultimately, Chamberlain™s credibility
depended on the solid reality of municipal democracy in Birmingham “
then widely regarded by many radicals as a model for the rest of the country.
It was a city which was ˜Radical to its very centre . . . here artisans have seats
on the governing bodies, including the Town Council, the School Board,
and the Board of Guardians. If anywhere, surely in Birmingham the
democracy is all powerful. John Bright once said, ˜˜As the sea is salt [sic]
wherever you taste it, so Birmingham is Liberal wherever touched.™™™7
It is tempting to see that city™s ˜municipal socialism™ as an anticipation
of Chamberlain™s later demands for state-sponsored social reform, and
therefore inevitably incompatible with Gladstone™s unrelenting zeal for
retrenchment at the Treasury, a suggestion in fact made by Chamberlain
himself in 1886.8 In 1880“5 there were occasional divergences of opinion
between the two, and Chamberlain was generally on the side of state
intervention. Indeed, in 1880, and again in 1882, he proposed a plan of
public works to relieve distress in Ireland: it was inspired by contempo-
rary French social reform, particularly the so-called Freycinet scheme,
and included demands for improved communications, help for industrial
enterprise, and drainage and reclamation of lands.9 He also supported

B. Webb, My Apprenticeship (1950), 109. 6 Ashby, Joseph Ashby of Tysoe, 117“18.
C. Leach, ˜Democracy and religion™, The Congregationalist, Nov. 1885, 841.
In a conversation with A. J. Balfour in Mar. 1886, cited in Judd, Radical Joe, 150“1.
Memos dated 18 Aug. 1880, JC 8/5/1/1 and 21 Apr. 1882, the latter in J. Chamberlain,
A political memoir, 1880“92, ed. by C. H. D. Howard (1953), 55. Charles de Freycinet,
Minister of Public Works in 1877“9. His scheme involved the investment of 350 million
francs of government money in the development of infrastructures such as harbour
The rise and fall of Radical Unionism 219

John Bright™s proposal for the creation of peasant proprietorship in
Ireland, a scheme which at the time Gladstone turned down as wildly
expensive10 “ although, as we have already seen (see chapter 1, p. 9),
eventually he proposed an even more expensive plan in 1886.
However, it is important to observe that both examples concern
Ireland, which was then entering a period of spiralling social and political
crisis, and which, in any case, was hardly indicative of any politician™s
˜normal™ inclinations (certainly it was not usual for Bright to advocate
ambitious plans of social engineering). As Marsh has pointed out, in most
other cases, and especially as far as the problems of urban England were
concerned, ˜[t]he contrast between laissez-faire Gladstonian Liberalism
and Chamberlain™s constructive variety was more rhetorical than sub-
stantive™.11 The Victorian ˜constitution™ recognized different roles for
local authorities and the central government. The latter could preach
and implement drastic cuts to public expenditure in the areas for which it
was directly responsible “ such as the army, navy and servicing of the
National Debt “ while the former could expand its functions and related
budgets. This must be borne in mind if one is to explain the apparent
paradox that Chamberlain ˜remained . . . throughout a consistent disciple
of J. S. Mill in matters of social and economic doctrine™,12 while
Gladstone himself was responsible for the growth of local government,
most significantly as a result of the 1870 Education Act “ perhaps the
single most expensive social reform passed by any British government in
the nineteenth century.
Yet, in other respects Chamberlain was indeed ˜different™ from both
Gladstone and most other Liberal leaders. By 1880, together with John
Bright, he was one of only two Dissenters to have risen to a position
of national leadership. A generation younger than Bright, he was more
self-confident and assertive. Partly as a consequence, Chamberlain, like
Gladstone, possessed the temperament and outlook of the executive
politician. Although both Bright and Chamberlain reflected the
Nonconformist tradition of ˜conviction™ politics, Chamberlain™s
Dissenting principles did not include peace, and indeed his family had
made a fortune out of Britain™s past wars. The uncompromising part of
his Dissenting background reflected his debt to Utilitarianism and

facilities, railways and canals. He was then Foreign Minister in 1882, in the days of the
invasion of Egypt. Freycinet was one of the many Protestants holding high office under
the Third Republic.
Marsh, Chamberlain, 150; K. Robbins, John Bright (1979), 241.
Marsh, Chamberlain, 181.
P. S. Fraser, Joseph Chamberlain: radicalism and empire, 1868“1914 (1966), xiii, 46;
Quinault, ˜Joseph Chamberlain™, 71, 73, 75.
220 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

Philosophical Radicalism, traditions which prized individual liberty of
judgement, and scrutinized religious as well as social practices in the cold
light of reason. In this respect, Chamberlain was the political heir of
Joseph Priestley, as much as of Tom Paine and Richard Price.13
For a Radical and ˜a man of the people™, this heritage came with
obvious benefits, but also some disadvantages. Among the latter, ˜the
emotional impoverishment of strictly rational religion™ was critical, since
this cut him off from the other Dissenters, and indeed from much of the
rest of British culture,14 then dominated by a powerfully emotional form
of Christianity “ Evangelicalism. This ˜disability™ was compounded by the
fact that ˜[he had] received his formal education in schools which stressed
modern rather than classical subjects: mathematics, some science, and
French as well as Latin™.15 Like that of J. S. Mill, Chamberlain™s educa-
tion did not include any particular emphasis on sentiment or the poetic
imagination. While Mill had moved away from dry Utilitarian rationalism
in the aftermath of his famous ˜mental crisis™, Chamberlain™s emotional
development was complicated by his loss of faith in 1875 after his second
wife™s tragic death.16 The anger and deep anguish associated with
this experience further weakened his ability to relate to the predominant
Evangelical mood of the country “ and especially to the famous
˜Nonconformist Conscience™. This was bound to generate misunderstand-
ings, which originated not in the sphere of political difference, but in the
deeper and extra-rational one of emotional incompatibility. An example is
provided by the events of 1876, when Chamberlain supported the
Bulgarian agitation, but without sharing the related emotionalism. To
most Dissenters it was a question of moral imperatives whose urgency
overruled alleged national interests. To Chamberlain, however, it was
a matter of party politics, and entailed a situation in which national interests
were not really at stake, because Britain™s virtual control of the Suez Canal
made its route to India safe, irrespective of Constantinople™s power and
attitudes. Later, when he changed his mind, he repudiated the policy.17
Real political differences between Chamberlain and Gladstone began
to emerge only in late 1885, in the aftermath of the famous ˜Ransom™

J. Loughlin, ˜Joseph Chamberlain, English nationalism and the Ulster question™, History,
77 (1992), 209.
Marsh, Chamberlain, 7. 15 Ibid., 8. 16 Ibid., 92.
In 1886 he wrote that ˜Mr Gladstone™s Bulgarian Agitation . . . was a gigantic mistake “
almost as great as his Home Rule proposals™, not because of Constantinople™s strategic
importance, but because he thought that Britain needed Turkish support to stop the
Russians in the Balkans (Chamberlain to Dilke, 2 Dec. 1886, JC 5/24/501). For his views
in 1876 see Marsh, Chamberlain, 115. At the time the ˜emotionalism™ of the agitation
alienated some Utilitarians and social reformers, including J. Fitzjames Stephen and
F. Harrison (Shannon, Bulgarian agitation, 207).
The rise and fall of Radical Unionism 221

speech. With its emphasis on land reform, its aggressive critique of the
landed aristocracy and quasi-republican rhetoric, this speech stretched
the remit of social reform to include both constitutional and fiscal poli-
cies, thus trespassing on two highly sensitive political areas. His 1885
Radical Manifesto alluded to the ˜socialist™ legislation which the times
demanded, and his electoral speeches stressed that ˜Government of the
people, and by the people™ now meant ˜of course . . . Socialism™.18 In other
words, Chamberlain™s new approach involved the politicization of social
reform. In future radicalism was to be about improving the people™s
material conditions. Gradually he was rejecting the old Peelite and


. 42
( 80 .)