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of self-deception and on a Gladstonian scale. Having played a leading role
in the British decision to invade, Chamberlain could now contrast the
˜benevolence™ and ˜disinterestedness™ of his government, with the ˜self-
ishness™ of the French, who had refused to take part in the invasion. As
Bright pointed out,44 it was a rather paradoxical and hypocritical stance.
Although the written correspondence between the representatives of
Birmingham radicalism fully reflected their disagreement, they managed
to remain on friendly terms with each other. ˜I never thought that any
word of yours was directed against me, but what you said at Ashton shows


40
J. Chamberlain, Memo on Lord Granville™s Draft of 18 Oct. 1882, in JC 7/1/3/4; see also
Chamberlain to Sir C. Dilke, 22 Oct. 1882, in JC 5/24/327.
41
J. Chamberlain™s minute of 18 Oct. 1882, in JC 7/1/3/3.
42
Chamberlain to Sir C. Dilke, 22 Oct. 1882, in JC 5/24/327.
43
Chamberlain™s minute of 18 Oct. 1882, in JC 7/1/3/4.
44
˜But the French did not think it their duty to attack the Forts, & they are now not obliged
to justify their conduct by false statements such as our Govt. is driven to when its
members say the bombardment was not war but a necessary act of self-defence . . . the
war was bad enough, but the statements made in its defence were monstrous . . .™ (John
Bright to J. Chamberlain, 4 January 1883, in JC 5/7/20.)
The rise and fall of Radical Unionism 227

how great is the difference between us,™ Bright wrote to Chamberlain in
one of the clearest critical analyses of the government™s policy in Egypt:
You join together ˜the policy of non intervention & peace at any price™, as if one
had necessarily any connection with the other. A man may be absolutely against
intervention, & yet ready & eager to fight against any one attacking himself or his
Country. And further you claim the policy of non intervention ˜to be an unworthy
and ignoble doctrine™. This is a doctrine held by Washington, & to which
Civilization & Christianity are evidently tending. You speak of the ˜honour and
interest of England™ as justifying intervention, and you refer, further on, to ˜certain
stock arguments of defeatism™. Are not your words of the stock arguments of the
Jingo school? I have heard them for 40 years in the House of Commons. They are
words of Palmerston throughout his mischievous career, & from William 3rd to
our own time they have been spoken in defence of all the crimes which have built
up the Debt & wasted the wealth & the blood of the people.45

Chamberlain argued that ˜[e]verything turns in my opinion on the prob-
abilities of what would have happened if we had not interfered. I think
that anarchy in Egypt and the massacre of European[s] would have ensued
and that this in turn would have been followed by European intervention
and very likely by European war.™46 In defence of government policy he
argued that ˜[we] see now the evils of interference, but it is impossible to
say what the result of a different course would have been, both in Egypt &
public opinion here.™47 Meanwhile he continued to urge Gladstone to
produce ˜an expression of opinion in reference to Egyptian liberty and
popular institutions™, in particular ˜First, with regard to the establishment
or reform of native tribunals and the general administration of justice in
the country, and Secondly, the creation of some kind of national repre-
sentative assembly™ “ although not a democratically elected one.48
Bright™s assessment was radically different: he insisted that the war was
no more justifiable when the decision to invade was taken than it was
in hindsight. And, directly contradicting Chamberlain, he added that it
was easy to see what the situation would have been without the invasion:
˜there would have been for the moment a bloodless revolution & England,
France and Turkey would have discussed the future of Egypt, but there
would have been no war “ no bombardment “ no city in flames “ no


45
J. Bright to J. Chamberlain, 4 Jan. 1883, in JC 5/7/20.
46
J. Chamberlain to J. Bright, 31 Dec. 1882, in JC 5/7/37. This view was widely dissemi-
nated among British policy makers at the time as a justification for the invasion: A. L. Al-
Sayyid-Marsot, ˜The British occupation of Egypt from 1882™, in A. Porter (ed.), The
Oxford history of the British Empire, vol. III: The nineteenth century (1999), 651.
47
J. Chamberlain to J. Bright, 14 Jan. 1884, in JC 5/7/39.
48
J. Chamberlain to W. E. Gladstone, 18 Oct. 1883, in Gladstone Papers, Add. MSS
44125, ff.166“7.
228 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

thousands of men slaughtered™.49 Eventually Chamberlain seemed
to concede Bright™s point: ˜I am afraid you were right and we were
wrong . . . I think I shall end by joining the Peace Society after all, though
it will go against the grain of my unregenerate nature.™50
Obviously, it was his ˜unregenerate nature™ which carried the day in the
end. Far from joining the Peace Society, Chamberlain moved further
towards the idea of a strong, decisive government as essential to the
pursuit of the public interest. This trend was further encouraged by his
enthusiasm for a more interventionist approach to social reform, again
from 1882“3 when he was much taken by Henry George™s Progress and
poverty.51 In December 1884, in the aftermath of the Third Reform Act,
he considered that democracy would now require a strengthening of the
executive in the United Kingdom, because ˜a democratic House of
Commons cannot attend to administrative details™,52 and because, as he
would put it to Balfour in 1886, the gravity of its social problems sug-
gested that the country might come to face a revolution which only
resolute government intervention would be able to avert.53
About the future of the empire, he argued that democratic Britain
should follow in America™s footsteps and move towards isolationism,
˜retir[ing] more & more from European politics™ and consolidating its
empire. Devolution, especially in India, made no sense:
The future of our rule in this great dependency is to me a matter of speculation &
even of anxiety. I do not suppose that we can obtain the affection of the people. As
far as I know there is no instance in history of one nations [sic] having ruled
another with its full consent & approval. If the people of India were of one race &
one mind they could drive us into the sea & rule themselves. But is this ever likely
to be the case? If not can we safely give any considerable extension of liberties?54
This was in a letter to C. P. Albert, a Legal Member of the Council of
India. It is interesting to note that even as Chamberlain reached the apex
of his democratic reputation, he came to share the views articulated by
that distinguished but remorselessly authoritarian body of Indian bureau-
crats. Sir Henry Maine, another Legal Member of the Council, denied
that the quality or legitimacy of a government rested on popular partici-
pation. India was ˜divided into a vast number of independent, self-acting,
organised social groups™ “ and this entailed sectionalism, the very opposite

49
J. Bright to J. Chamberlain, 18 Jan. 1884, in JC 5/7/21.
50
J. Chamberlain to J. Bright, 14 Jan. 1884, in JC 5/7/39.
51
Garvin, Chamberlain, vol. I, 385“6.
52
JC to C. P. Albert, Legal member of the Council of India, 19 Dec. 1884, in JC 9/1/2/1.
53
From Balfour™s account of his famous convivial discussion with Chamberlain, on 22 Mar.
1886, cited in Judd, Radical Joe, 151.
54
JC to C. P. Albert, Legal member of the Council of India, 19 Dec. 1884, in JC 9/1/2/1.
The rise and fall of Radical Unionism 229

of Chamberlain™s ˜public™ interest, a view at the time shared by other
Liberals. He rejected the idea that the role and justification of British rule
included training Indians in nation-building and self-government.55
Because only authority could enforce the pursuit of public interest and
the ˜greatest happiness of the greatest number™, he was not embarrassed
by the authoritarian implications of his Utilitarianism. Neither was
Chamberlain, apparently not even in 1884. Furthermore, unlike his
Birmingham associate and fellow-Nonconformist R. W. Dale, his attitude
was not inspired by the then commonplace notion that the Indians were
˜not yet ready™ for self-government. In fact, in 1882 he had ridiculed this
view, both as a general argument and with regard to the Egyptians.56
Rather, it was a question of national interest and imperial survival:
˜[e]xcept as a preparation for entire self-government a mixed system is
productive of grave embarrassment. Look at the case of the Cape & South
African colonies! Australia & Canada afford no guide. There we have
practically conceded independence and nothing but the sentimental
tie remains.™57
This reasoning was applicable to Ireland. The question was not simply
whether Home Rule was consistent with the then current British colonial
policy, because, while the latter was in itself conducive to imperial dis-
integration, the former contained the germs of a lethal nationalist ˜con-
tagion™.58 Chamberlain™s prescriptions involved a proactive role for the
British executive and for Parliament, whose sovereignty could not be
questioned. In 1880 he considered land reform in conjunction with
local government, for example ˜elective County Boards [which] will
be formed to exercise a qualified Home Rule within the limits of the

55
H. Maine, Village communities in the East and the West (1876), 56“7; J. M. Burrow, ˜Henry
Maine and the mid-Victorian idea of progress™, in A. Diamond (ed.), The Victorian
achievement of Sir Henry Maine (1991), 68; cf. A. S. Kirshner, ˜Character and the admin-
istration of empires in the political thought of Henry Maine™, unpublished M.Phil.
dissertation, University of Cambridge, 2002, 62. For sectionalism allegedly preventing
nation-building in both India and Ireland see MacKnight, Ulster as it is, 140, 237.
56
˜As regards representative government the opinions of all authorities are tainted by the
incoherent distrust of authorities of the capacity of the people to govern themselves.
Macaulay™s illustration of the man who would not go into the water until he had learned
to swim is the type of all the objections raised by the extension of self-government among
the people. It is said the fellaheen are not fitted for representation. I should like to know
any case in the history of any nation when the unrepresented classes have not been met
with the same objection by those who have arrogated to themselves the right of disposing
of their destinies. At the present moment it is the stock argument of Tories with regard to
the agricultural labourer.™ (Chamberlain™s minute of 18 Oct. 1882, in JC 7/1/3/3.) For
R. W. Dale™s attitude see Hall, Civilising subjects, 383“4.
57
JC to C. P. Albert, Legal member of the Council of India, 19 Dec. 1884, in JC 9/1/2/1.
58
S. H. Zebel, ˜Joseph Chamberlain and the genesis of tariff reform™, Journal of British
Studies, 7, 1 (1987), 132“3.
230 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism

county™.59 In 1881, in correspondence with the Irish MP Charles
Dawson, he expressed his reservations about the consequences of assim-
ilation of the electoral laws of Britain and Ireland. Moreover, in connec-
tion with Home Rule, he stated: ˜I am not prepared to offer to Ireland
State rights similar in all respects to those possessed by the States of the
American Union. These rights caused the Civil War & their concession in
Ireland would, I have no doubt, lead to a similar catastrophe.™ In vain did
Dawson suggest that “ in his view, which had been that of the Radicals in
1861“5 “ the Civil War had been caused by slavery, not by state rights.
All that Chamberlain was prepared to concede was ˜devolving on local
government in G[rea]t. Britain as well as in Ireland some of the duties
now performed by an Imperial Parl[iamen]t™.60 ˜I say to Ireland what the
Liberals and the Republicans of the North said to the Southern States of
America “ ˜˜The Union must be preserved (cheers); you cannot and you
shall not destroy it (cheers).™™ Within these limits there is nothing that you
may not ask and hope to obtain “ equal laws, equal justice, equal oppor-
tunities, equal prosperity.™61
The parallel with the US Civil War, with its epic struggle between
˜good™ and ˜evil™, held a central place in the British Radical imagination.62
The attraction of applying it to the Home Rule crisis was evident: in
particular, it helped to present the Liberal Unionist cause as perfectly
consistent with the Anglo-American and European liberal tradition,
which sought improvement by means of the consolidation of regions
and provinces into larger and economically feasible nations “ according
to Friedrich List™s ˜threshold™ theory of nation-building. Separatism,
especially when it came with the request for privileges by the Catholic
Church, was regarded as the very opposite of both nation-building and
progress. This was particularly the case with Ireland, because, as liberals
and democrats of the calibre of Tocqueville and Mazzini had argued in
the 1840s, its problems were not those of an oppressed nation: rather,


59
H. Labouchere to J. Chamberlain, 17 Dec. 1880, forwarded to Gladstone on 22 Dec.
1880, in Gladstone Papers, Add. MSS 44125, ff. 55“6.
60
J. Chamberlain to C. Dawson, 31 Oct. 1881 and C. Dawson to J. Chamberlain, 2 Nov.
1881, respectively in JC 8/6/32/2 and JC 8/6/36/3.
61
J. Chamberlain, Home Rule and the Irish Question: A collection of speeches delivered between
1881 and 1887 (1887), 27.
62
A. G. Gardiner, The life of Sir William Harcourt, vol. II, (New York, n.d.), 48. For parallels
in the contemporary debate see J. M. Horton Jr.,˜The case of the American Civil War in
the debate over Irish Home Rule™, American Historical Review, 69 (1964), 1022“6;
K. M. Foster, ˜The intellectual duke: George Douglas Campbell, 8th Duke of Argyll,
1823“1900™, Ph.D. thesis, University of Edinburgh, 2005, 149, 161 (in this respect
Argyll deserved the sobriquet of ˜the radical duke™ “ at any rate his attitude was closer
to Bright than to those of other Liberal leaders).
The rise and fall of Radical Unionism 231

they were social and political, and their solution was to be sought in
the establishment of full constitutional equality for all British subjects
throughout the United Kingdom, without distinctions of creed, ethnicity
or other criteria.
In this context it is instructive to compare the attitudes of Chamberlain,
Gladstone and Bright towards the politics of law and order. In principle,
all three were against coercion. However, from as early as 1880
Chamberlain was prepared to endorse it on both pragmatic and oppor-
tunistic grounds: ˜there [was] no alternative™ and ˜[t]he workmen here
[did] not like to see law set at defiance™.63 Whatever Birmingham artisans
actually thought (and there is evidence of virulent anti-Catholicism in the
town64), Bright, the other radical MP for the city, agreed that coercion
was necessary. Like A. J. Mundella (an erstwhile and future Home
Ruler), both Chamberlain and Bright felt that with coercion and
the closure ˜[t]he Government is really making a fight for representa-
tive institutions™.65 It seemed that Bright was almost eager to see the
Habeas Corpus Act suspended, having reached the conclusion that the
Irish Nationalists “ supported, as they were, by Britain™s enemies in
America “ were ˜not only a foreign element . . . but a rebel party, with
whom we must reckon™.66 Chamberlain, who was continuously involved
in negotiations with the ˜rebels™, was more ambiguous. When the Irish
Secretary W. E. Forster demanded the suspension of the Habeas Corpus
Act, he threatened to resign. At the NLF meeting of 1881 he described
it as ˜a blot upon our civilization™, although he concluded that ˜the
ultimate duty of a Liberal was to support and assert the law™.67 This
sense of ˜ultimate duty™ was compounded, in the summer of 1881, by
the news of the shooting and subsequent death of J. A. Garfield,
the president of the USA, an appalling crime which strengthened the
general revulsion against terrorism and political violence felt by the
British public.


63
J.Chamberlain to Sir C. Dilke, 27 Oct. 1880, JC 5/24/296. For the reluctance of the three
Liberal leaders to adopt coercion see Chamberlain to Gladstone, 14 Dec. 1881, and
Gladstone™s reply to Chamberlain, 15 Dec. 1881, in Gladstone Papers, Add. MSS.
44125, respectively ff. 102“3, 104“5, 106. While rejecting ˜coercion™, Gladstone con-

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