compounded by imperial angst.149 The extent to which the British identity
J. Bright, â€˜A Parliament in Dublinâ€™, The Liberal Unionist, Nov. 1887, 50.
Walling, The diaries of John Bright, 20 Mar. 1886, 536.
Heyck, Dimensions, 29. Robert Lowe and other opponents of electoral reform had said
exactly the same about the English working man in 1866.
â€˜It is something for the English-speaking race to say, that the darkest conspiracy against
human liberty the world has ever witnessed [the rebellion of the southern states] was
unsullied by the crimes of the assassin, or the dark and tortuous alliance which have been
the most formidable resources of Irish conspirators and their allies.â€™ L.a., â€˜State rights
and Home Ruleâ€™, WT&E, 17 Feb. 1889, 8; for the â€˜innateâ€™ murderous proclivities of the
Irish peasant see â€˜The Clan-Na-Gael: alleged murder of Mr Mâ€™Ineryâ€™, WT&E, 7 July
Among their exploits there was the massacre of some two hundred men and boys in
Lawrence, Kansas, in August 1863. On the topic see R. S. Brownlee, Gray ghosts of the
Confederacy: guerrilla warfare in the West, 1861â€“1865 (1986).
Hall, Civilising subjects.
248 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
was shaped by the empire is controversial, but in the late 1880s concern for
its preservation was growing even in Radical circles, especially in England
and Scotland.150 As Chamberlain argued in a speech at Ayr in April 1887,
Home Rule was â€˜a programme which, if successful, [would] overthrow the
supremacy of Parliament, destroy the authority of the law, break up the
unity of the kingdom, and thus pave the way for the dissolution of the Great
Empire which has been the envy and admiration of the worldâ€™.151 Even the
otherwise staunchly Gladstonian Nonconformist press was occasionally
excited by imperial issues, often displaying ambiguous attitudes to the
whole enterprise.152 Although Dissenter imperialism was primarily moti-
vated by missionary concerns and the anti-slave trade campaign in
Africa,153 their press sometimes covered a wide range of cultural themes.
The latter were assessed â€“ even in the most uncompromisingly Gladstonian
denominational journals â€“ in ways which revealed not only sectarian preju-
dice, but also an â€˜orientalistâ€™ outlook, a confident imperialism and a patron-
izing attitude to other races and creeds.154 They betrayed a firm belief in
the baleful consequences of Catholic culture on national character, and
especially on the character of â€˜inferiorâ€™ races.155 Ultimately, they confirm
Rebecca Gillâ€™s conclusion that the agenda of many (though not all) liberal-
humanitarian organizations was based on the conviction that British
civilization was the engine of progress and was thus linked to nationalism
as much as internationalism and universalism.156
G. Walker, â€˜Empire, religion and nationality in Scotland and Ulster before the First
World Warâ€™, in I. S. Wood (ed.), Scotland and Ulster (1994), 98â€“9; Cameron,
L.a., â€˜Not the way to help Irelandâ€™, LW, 17 Apr. 1887, 1.
Although scholars disagree on this point: Bebbington, The Nonconformist conscience,
106â€“26; D. Fitzpatrick, â€˜Ireland and the empireâ€™, in Porter, The Oxford history of the
British Empire: the Nineteenth century, 499; A. Porter, Religion versus empire? British
Protestant missionaries and overseas expansion, 1700â€“1914 (2004), 280â€“1, 316â€“30;
Thorne, Congregational missions, 89â€“124; and the splendid analysis of the colonial and
missionary â€˜imaginationâ€™ of Birmingham Nonconformity in Hall, Civilising subjects.
B. Porter, Critics of empire: British attitudes to colonialism in Africa, 1895â€“1914 (London,
1968); K. Grant, A civilised savagery: Britain and the new slaveries in Africa, 1884â€“1926
J. Smith, â€˜Central Africa and its mission fieldsâ€™, Primitive Methodist Quarterly Review, Jan.
1888, 98â€“108; M. Clarke, â€˜Australian Aboriginesâ€™, ibid., Oct. 1889, 623â€“32;
J. Ashworth, â€˜Mohammedanism in relation to Christian missionsâ€™, ibid., Jan. 1890,
40â€“53; G. Lansing Taylor, â€˜The new Africaâ€™, ibid., Apr. 1890, 222â€“38. Even commen-
taries on apparently less political topics, such as archaeology in Egypt, displayed this
unabashed â€˜orientalismâ€™: for example, the pyramids were dismissed as nothing more
than â€˜the most frightful monuments of despotism to be found anywhere in the worldâ€™
(W. F. Adeney in The Congregationalist, May 1885, 395).
For example see â€˜Politicsâ€™, Primitive Methodist Quarterly Review, Apr. 1883, 191, and
â€˜Madagascar and Franceâ€™, The Congregationalist, Mar. 1885, 226.
Gill, â€˜Calculating compassion in warâ€™, 26â€“7.
The rise and fall of Radical Unionism 249
Bearing in mind that Victorian Liberals and Nonconformists often
adopted â€˜culturistâ€™, rather than biological, understandings of racial differ-
ences, it is not surprising that the Radical Unionist case against Home
Rule was partly based on the claim that there were â€˜great distinctions . . .
in race and religion between the South and the Northâ€™.157 Jesse
Ashworth, in a rare Unionist contribution to the Primitive Methodist
Quarterly, argued that â€˜the wide extremes which are found among the
population of Ireland in race and creed, temperament and characterâ€™
would certainly prevent an Irish Parliament from functioning â€˜with har-
mony and successâ€™.158 The Irish displayed a tendency to use â€˜coercion
mixed with crueltyâ€™ on each other through boycotting and terrorism.159
The cartoonists of Punch, Judy and other journals developed a full
range of ape-like representations of drunk, violent, unruly, irrational
Celtic peasants intent on spreading misery and death among their unfor-
tunate compatriots. Claim that this reaction was informed by â€˜racialâ€™
stereotypes has generated considerable heat among historians. In any
case it finds parallels in other similarly religious-inspired conflicts: for
example, it is reminiscent of the cultural stereotypes which informed
German Protestant Liberals in their attitude to Polish Catholic peasants
in the religious border regions of the Kaiserreich, and, as we have seen,
cartoons of southern brigands in the Italian bourgeois press.160
Moreover, it was neither consistent nor necessarily associated with the
imperialist mind-set. For example, in December 1880 General Gordon
took issue with the denigrators of the Irish peasants and wrote to The
Times that â€˜these people are made as we are, they are patient beyond
belief, loyal, but, at the same time, broken spirited and desperate, living
on the verge of starvation in places in which we would not keep our
cattleâ€™.161 It is not always easy to assess the evidence, especially in the
Cited in rep., â€˜Mr Chamberlain and the Irish questionâ€™, NW, 24 Apr. 1886, 2. For
cultural racism see Hall, Civilising subjects, 125â€“33, 364â€“6; and B. Porter, The absent-
minded imperialists: empire, society and culture in Britain (2004), 100.
J. Ashworth, â€˜Symposium: the government of Ireland, especially with reference to Home
Rule: third paperâ€™, Primitive Methodist Quarterly Review and Christian Ambassador, July
â€˜The new Coercion Billâ€™, WT&E, 8 Apr 1887, 8.
H. W. Smith, German nationalism and religious conflict: culture, ideology, politics,
1870â€“1914 (1995), 174â€“5. For the Italian comparison see Scirocco (intro.),
Brigantaggio lealismo repression nel Mezzogiorno. For the debate on â€˜racismâ€™ and the
â€˜Celtsâ€™ see R. C. K. Ensor, â€˜Some political and economic interactions in later Victorian
Englandâ€™, in L. Schuyler and H. Ausbel (eds.), The making of English history (1952),
534â€“42; Curtis, Anglo-Saxons and Celts and Apes and angels; Fitzpatrick, â€˜Ireland and the
empireâ€™, 499; and the revisionists critiques of Gilley, â€˜English attitudes to the Irish in
Englandâ€™ and Foster, Paddy and Mr Punch, chapter 9.
Cited in Hammond, Gladstone and the Irish nation, 196â€“7.
250 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
period 1882â€“93 when rhetorical hyperbole was the staple diet of each
sideâ€™s description of the other.
Despite the ambiguities of the case, the fact remains that racial differ-
ences and related tensions were often mentioned as one of the reasons
why North American federalism could not be successfully introduced to
the British Isles. Moreover, whether based on â€˜national characterâ€™ or on
â€˜raceâ€™, this dismissal of Irish political integrity was accompanied by a
parallel ideology about â€˜inferior European racesâ€™ such as the Portuguese
who, as one Radical Unionist commentator confidently argued, the
British could crush as â€˜a cleanly manâ€™ crushes â€˜an insectâ€™.162 Obviously
Chamberlain was not the only Nonconformist to have discovered the
appeal of new racial theories, nor was Dilke the only Radical to celebrate
the triumphs of Anglo-Saxon civilization.163
For those of Chamberlainâ€™s generation, the defence of religious and
ethnic minority rights was also partly linked to this â€˜racialâ€™ aspect of
Radical Unionism. They saw the â€˜Ulster Scotsâ€™ as a distinct group within
Ireland, one with its own views and rights to self-determination to be
sheltered from what a Radical elector, writing to Cowen to express his
opposition to Home Rule, described as â€˜the ignorant and fanatical Celts
of the South and West of Irelandâ€™.164 Moreover, they demanded and
deserved protection under the Union, especially in view of the fact that
they were threatened not only by religious intolerance, but also by
Nationalist commercial bigotry in the form of protectionism â€“ a blas-
phemy for all right-minded Liberals.165 Ulster stood for all that British
popular liberalism had always espoused, including â€˜independenceâ€™,
resourcefulness, honesty and determination. â€˜Industrious and prosper-
ousâ€™, Anglo-Saxon Ulster should not be â€˜handed overâ€™, â€˜bound hand and
footâ€™, to a bunch of law-breakers and quasi-anarchist Celts, who were
agitators today but would be legislators tomorrow.166
See the leaders â€˜True Liberal patriotismâ€™, WT&E, 7 July 1887, 8 and â€˜The struggle in
Africaâ€™, ibid., 9 (an article about the Delagoa Bay railway incident); and â€˜One step more
in Africaâ€™, WT&E, 19 Jan. 1890, 8.
By 1883 Chamberlain had become a reader and an admirer of John Seeley, The
expansion of England (1882), and, under the influence of his close friend Sir Charles
Dilke, he had developed a lively interest in â€˜Greater Britainâ€™. Dilke and Seeley were two
of the influences in the making of Chamberlainâ€™s vision of a wider British national
identity which would unite English speakers throughout the world (Chamberlain
to Dilke, Sep. 1881, cited in S. Gwynn and G. M. Tuckerwell, The Life of Sir Charles
Dilke, MP (1917), 501). For the Nonconformists see Bebbington, Nonconformist
â€˜A Native of Newcastleâ€™ to J. Cowen, 1 June 1886, in Cowen Papers, B376.
â€˜Some facts about Home Ruleâ€™, WT&E, 30 Dec. 1888, 9.
Walker, â€˜Empire, religion and nationalityâ€™, 103.
The rise and fall of Radical Unionism 251
If the Irish people will stand by the English people the hold of the landlords (the
real curse of the country) will be reduced in a very few years to a rent charge and a
rent charge can be made to disappear in 40 years. That is my remedy to which all
others are subsidiary. I dread Ireland being led off on false trails after â€˜Home
Ruleâ€™, â€˜Catholic Educationâ€™ or any other of the cries which false patriots and
cunning English politicians will attempt to raise â€“ â€˜Home Ruleâ€™ will never set the
Irish peasants free and â€˜Catholic Educationâ€™ will be their curse.167
Thus Froude laid out in 1872 what was to remain the Liberal Unionist
attitude to the Irish question for the next thirty years. Froudeâ€™s corre-
spondent was G. C. Mahon, a Protestant Home Ruler who detested
Catholic nationalism as consisting of â€˜Romanism & communismâ€™,168
but abhorred the Union even more. He believed that â€˜if Home Rule
succeeds it will place us Protestants absolutely under the heel of Irish
RC priestsâ€™ and â€˜nothing but the bad faith, the extortion and violence of
England would make the prospect endurable for a momentâ€™. Irish
Protestants should therefore work for Home Rule â€˜but more from good
honest detestation of England and from good honest love of Ireland than
from any prospect of benefit to themselvesâ€™.169 Ultimately what made
Home Rule bearable was â€˜the nature of the people, from whom both priests
and laity are takenâ€™ â€“ alluding to their traditionally deferential attitude
towards men of property. If the â€˜nature of the peopleâ€™ changed, then â€˜the
utmostâ€™ that one could hope for was that Protestant landlords would
have â€˜time to â€˜â€˜sell outâ€™â€™ and leave the country, which [was] to be governed
by a majority devoted to Rome and but slightly influenced by abstract
ideas of â€˜â€˜Civil and religious libertyâ€™â€™ â€™.170 By 1886 the Land League first
and then the National League had deeply changed the way people like
J. A. Froude to G. C. Mahon, 29 Oct. 1872 from Ithaca, in NLI, MS 22,201 (emphasis in
the original). To Mahon this was tantamount to trying to appease Ireland by implement-
ing legislation based â€˜on Communist principles â€“ spoiling one class ostensibly for the benefit
of another but really for the sake of the lucre in the shape of political capital which might
stick to English fingers in the manipulation of the schemeâ€™ (G. Mahon to J. Martin, 4 Nov.
1872, MS 22,201(emphasis in the orginal). Mahonâ€™s nationalist correspondent,
J. Martin, commented: â€˜the fun is that you, naturally empathizing, from family connec-
tion and education, with the Protestant-Ascendancy Landlord class in Ireland, should
write in accord with such sympathy to Froude and should receive from him an answer in
which, with cynical candour and true English disdain, he confides to you his desire and
policy to ruin the Irish landlords, because they no longer are a support to the English
interestâ€™ (J. Martin to G. C. Mahon, 21 Nov. 1872, NAI, MS 22,201). This exchange
gives an idea of the distrust with which Irish landlords had come to view â€˜English ruleâ€™.
G. C. Mahon to J. Martin, 10 Jan. 1874, NLI, MS 22,203.
G. C. Mahon to J. Martin, 29 Dec. 1874, NAI, MS 22,203 (emphasis in the original).
G. C. Mahon to J. Martin, 10 Jan. 1874, NAI, MS 22,203.
252 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
Mahon perceived and assessed â€˜the natureâ€™ of the people, and â€˜the char-
acter of the men to whom power would be given in an Irish parliamentâ€™
became one of the principal Liberal Unionist objections to Home
Rule.171 As Mahon had prophesied, the consequence was that not only
the landowners, but also all the Irish Protestant denominations, including
Nonconformist bodies such as the Primitive Methodists and Moravians,
became seriously worried about their future under Home Rule.172
Indeed, the preservation of religious liberty was converted into one of
the central tenets of Liberal Unionism in both countries.
Yet, there were important differences between the ways in which the
issue was handled, respectively, by the British and by the Irish. The
former were eager to stress the dangers of religious persecution and
gave prominence to actual episodes of intolerance in south-west
Ireland, claiming that they were but a foretaste of a more general hostil-
ity.173 Believing that the Catholic priests exerted â€˜absoluteâ€™ control over
the minds of the populace, Nonconformist leaders such as John Bright,
C. H. Spurgeon, Newman Hall174 and in particular Joseph
Chamberlain175 felt that under Home Rule Parnell would be unable to
control the popish mobs composed of his followers. It is remarkable that
such anxieties were shared by people of different social, educational
and denominational backgrounds throughout Britain.176 What is even
more surprising is that similar concerns were privately expressed even
McCartney, Lecky, 124.
They thought that it was â€˜indisputableâ€™ that Home Rule would be Rome Rule as a
majority of the Nationalist MPs were â€˜but tools of the Roman Catholic hierarchyâ€™.
â€˜Brief Notesâ€™, The Baptist Magazine, April 1886, 184; Revd W. Nicholas, Why are the
Methodists of Ireland opposed to Home Rule (1893), 18.