Liberal Unionist Association Pamphlets No. 33. Mr Bright and Mr Spurgeon on the Home
Rule Bill (1886); C. Newman Hall to Gladstone, 21 Jan. 1887, in Gladstone Papers Add.
MSS 44188, ff.193â€“5.
For a few examples see Chamberlain, Political memoir, 252 (letter to The Baptist, 25 Feb.
1887); and the reports â€˜Mr Chamberlainâ€™s visit to Ulsterâ€™, FJ, 17 Oct. 1887, 5;
â€˜Mr Chamberlain in Edinburghâ€™, The Liberal Unionist, Jan. 1892, 105â€“6;
â€˜Mr Chamberlain and the Nonconformistsâ€™, ibid., May 1892, 185â€“6.
Hutchison, A political history of Scotland, 162â€“3; C. M. M MacDonald, â€˜Locality,
tradition and language in the evolution of Scottish Unionism: a case study, Paisley
1886â€“1910â€™, in Macdonald (ed.), Unionist Scotland, 1800â€“1997 (1998), 59;
D. Wormell, Sir John Seeley and the uses of history (1980), 175; and C. Harvie, The lights
of liberalism: university liberals and the challenge of democracy, 1860â€“86 (1976), 218ff.;
T. Dunne, â€˜La trahison des clercs: British intellectuals and the first home-rule crisisâ€™, Irish
Historical Studies, 23, 9 (1982), 134â€“73; G. Jones, â€˜Scientists against Home Ruleâ€™, in
D. G. Boyce and A. Oâ€™Day (eds.), Defenders of the Union: survey of British and Irish
Unionism since 1801 (2001), 188â€“208.
The rise and fall of Radical Unionism 253
by some Gladstonians177 and indeed by at least one prominent Irish
Nationalist leader.178 As late as 1893 C. P. Trevelyan concluded that
â€˜the retrogressive influence of Catholicism commercially and education-
ally cannot be exaggeratedâ€™.179 Particularly galling was the charge that the
Roman Catholic bishops were imposing â€˜ecclesiastical governmentâ€™ in
Ireland, through their interference in by-elections. Of course, the church
had been involved in Irish elections for ages. Although the hierarchyâ€™s
main victims were the breakaway Parnellites, rejection of â€˜clerical dicta-
torshipâ€™ enabled Chamberlain and others to play off a little rhetorical
Kulturkampf in the hope of attracting Nonconformist votes.180
By contrast, in Ireland, some Liberal Unionists were clearly upset and
disgusted by Chamberlainâ€™s anti-Catholic antics,181 while others cam-
paigned to dismantle sectarian segregation, complaining that Home Rule
would strengthen it.182 Even those who in England indulged in sectarian
H. Labouchere to J. McCarthy, n.d. [early 1886], NLI, MS 24,958 (5);
L. A. Waterman, from Detroit (Michigan) to E. Blake, 2 Mar. 1893, Blake Letters,
NLI  4685; A. Drummond and W. Galbraith, Provincial Grand Orange Lodge of
Quebec, to E. Blake, 13 Mar. 1893, ibid.,  4685.
The latter advised against the abolition of an upper house in the second Home Rule Bill,
in view of the fact that Ireland had neither statesmen of â€˜moderate and cautious viewsâ€™,
nor â€˜[a] fine class of yeomanryâ€™, and as a consequence there was justified â€˜anxiety as to
partial, unjust and confiscatory proceedings by the Irish Legislatureâ€™ (E. Blake to
J. Bryce, 24 Oct. 1892, in NLI, Blake Letters,  4681). Not surprisingly, Radical
Unionists made the same point about the legitimacy of the House of Lordsâ€™ decision to
reject the Bill in 1893: l.a., â€˜The country and the Lordsâ€™, LW, 1 Oct. 1893, 8.
C. P. Trevelyan from Dublin Castle, to E. Blake, 22 Feb. 1893, in NLI, Blake Letters,
734,4685; rep., â€˜Mr Chamberlain on the political situationâ€™, WT&E, Jan. 1893, 9.
L. P. Curtis, Jr., â€˜Government policy and the Irish party crisis, 1890â€“92â€™, Irish Historical
Studies, 13, 52 (1963), 313; A. Jackson, Colonel Edward Saunderson: land and loyalty in
Victorian Ireland (Oxford, 1995) 131; Lyons, The Irish Parliamentary Party, 37;
B. M. Walker, Ulster politics: the formative years, 1868â€“86 (1989), 193â€“4. For the more
sectarian and militant rhetoric of Ulster Conservatives see J. Anderson, â€˜Ideological
variations in Ulster during Irelandâ€™s first Home Rule crisis: an analysis of local news-
papersâ€™, in C. H. Williams and E. Kofman (eds.), Community conflict, partition and
nationalism (1989), 149.
â€˜In his Clogher speech [J. Chamberlain] rails against Catholics & shows me clearly what
an intolerant man he is.â€™ (W. Kenny to H. de F. Montgomery, 29 Oct. 1894, D/627/428/
259.) As well as being a Catholic himself, when he wrote this letter William Kenny was
Unionist MP for the marginal Dublin constituency of St Stephenâ€™s Green, which
included a significant number of middle-class Catholic Unionists. This added to the
sensitivity of the subject. (I am grateful to Paul Bew for these details.) For
Chamberlainâ€™s anti-Catholic rhetoric see his speech in â€˜Mr Chamberlain in Dundeeâ€™,
Birmingham Daily Post, 15 Feb. 1889, 5.
For example, a Miss Richardson described the hierarchyâ€™s decision that girls from
convents should no longer be entered for the public system of intermediate examination
as a foretaste of the sectarian divide that a Home Rule Parliament would foster: rep.,
â€˜National Liberal Union: womenâ€™s meeting in the Town Hallâ€™, Birmingham Daily Post,
27 Apr. 1889, 5.
254 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
rhetoric when addressing public meetings, in Ireland claimed to be
championing the unity of â€˜all classes and creedsâ€™.183 In Ulster, the
Liberals â€“ in contrast to the Conservatives â€“ seemed to be primarily
worried about the economic and commercial, rather than religious, impli-
cations of Home Rule. It made electoral sense: in a society where sectar-
ian issues were explosive and likely to polarize opinion between
Nationalists and Conservatives, for the Liberals a â€˜secularâ€™ or non-
sectarian platform was a question of electoral life or death. In 1880 they
had secured nine seats by campaigning on tenant rights and land reform, an
issue which had also been prominent during the previous general elec-
tion, in 1874.184 At the election of 1885 many candidates adopted a
radical line on land reform as well as on other social issues, such as
temperance and better housing for the labourers. They emphasized
their support for free trade, in contrast to Parnellâ€™s call for protection.
Some of them went as far as endorsing womenâ€™s suffrage: Thomas
Shillington (a Gladstonian, North Armagh), John Workman (South
Belfast), Alexander Bowman (Independent Labour candidate for North
Belfast), William Johnston and of course Isabella M. Tod â€“ for whom
womenâ€™s political rights were inextricably linked to the Union.185
In Ulster all the Liberal candidates were defeated in 1885, when sixteen
Conservatives and seventeen Nationalists were elected in a poll dominated
by sectarian divisions. This result was not unexpected â€“ in fact during the
debate for the Reform and Redistribution Bills of 1884â€“5 Ulster Liberals
had expressed their fear that the farm workerâ€™s vote in single-member
constituencies would drown them in a sea of Orange and Nationalist
votes.186 Yet the apparent growth of sectarianism persuaded more and
W. C. Trimble to H. de F. Montgomery, 12 Mar. 1894, D/627/428/235; for Trimbleâ€™s
propaganda among the Nonconformists in Britain see G. Litton Falkiner, Irish Unionist
Alliance, Dublin to H. de F. Montgomery, 14 Mar. 1894, D/627/428/239. Trimble was
the editor of the Enniskillen Impartial Reporter, and had supported the Land League in
the early 1880s. His paper was seen as pro-tenant contrast to the Conservative and pro-
landlord Fermanagh Times. (I am grateful to Paul Bew for these details.) Trimble was not
selected and complained about the â€˜casteâ€™ prejudice against him, an allusion to the
hostility of the gentry (see his letter on 28 Mar. 1894, D. 627/428/259). However,
Montgomery regarded him as a sort of charlatan.
L. J. McCafrey, â€˜Home Rule and the general election of 1874 in Irelandâ€™, Irish Historical
Studies, 9, 33 (1954), 190â€“212; G. Greenlee, â€˜Land, religion and communityâ€™, 253â€“75.
Walker, Ulster politics, 213. On Todâ€™s politics see M. Luddy, â€˜Isabella M. S. Tod,
1836â€“1896â€™, in M. Cullen and M. Luddy (eds.), Women, power and consciousness in
nineteenth-century Ireland (1995); H. Brown, â€˜An alternative imperialism: Isabella Tod,
internationalist and â€˜â€˜Good Liberal Unionistâ€™â€™ â€™, Gender and History, 10, 4 (1998), 358â€“80;
and N. Armour, â€˜Isabella Tod and Liberal Unionism in Ulster, 1886â€“1896â€™, in A. Hayes
and D. Urquhart (eds.), New perspective on Irish women (2004), 72â€“87.
MacKnight, Ulster as it is, 76â€“7.
The rise and fall of Radical Unionism 255
more Liberals to seek an alliance with the Conservatives,187 but did not
affect the ideology and strategy of most of those who decided to remain
independent. The latter hoped that political trends and electoral fortunes
would change again, as had happened so often in the past, but the Whig
leader, Hugh de Fellenberg Montgomery feared that the increasingly
sectarian nature of Ulster politics world marginalize the liberals.188
R. J. Bryce commented on the risk that the debate could become domi-
nated by the Presbyteriansâ€™ concern for the preservation of religious
liberty. The latter was â€˜a precious cause, no doubtâ€™, but its rise as an
electoral factor was â€˜proof of the urgent necessity for all Liberals, of
whatever religious denomination, to stand forth on the broad ground of
their citizenship in denouncing the slightest hesitation on the part of any
Government in leaving Ireland to be torn in pieces by the dissentions
which would be the inevitable results of a separate and independent
Parliamentâ€™.189 A similar concern was shared by W. E. H. Lecky.190 For
T. A. Dickson, a Radical who opted for Home Rule in 1886, the way
forward was root-and-branch reform to make the Union fairer to Ireland.
He recommended the abandoning of coercion, the passing of a land
purchase act, â€˜a Scheme of Local and County Government on the widest
and most comprehensive basisâ€™, the abolition of the role of the viceroy and
the establishment of a royal residence in Ireland â€˜accompanied by an
entirely new departure in the administration of Irish affairsâ€™.191 He was
a Presbyterian â€˜ready to resist any encroachment upon [his denomina-
tional rights]â€™, but entertaining no sectarian fears. Rather, he said, â€˜I fully
recognise that my lot is cast in a country where Roman Catholicism
guides and controls the lives of the vast majority of the people; and that
much misgovernment in the past has arisen from ignoring or disregarding
this important fact.â€™192
D. C. Savage, â€˜The origins of the Ulster Unionist party, 1885â€“6â€™, Irish Historical Studies,
12, 47 (1961), 189.
H. de F. Montgomery in rep., â€˜County Tyrone Liberal Associationâ€™, The Northern Whig,
2, Jan. 1886, 7. Montgomery was one of the leading Ulster Liberals, a key figure for
understanding the events of this period, and one who left a remarkably extensive
collection of political correspondence. On the familyâ€™s involvement in Northern Irish
politics in the twentieth century see P. Bew, K. Darwin and G. Gillespie (eds.), Passion
and prejudice: Nationalistâ€“Unionist conflict in Ulster in the 1930s and the founding of the Irish
Letter by R. J. Bryce, â€˜The Ulster Liberals and the Unionâ€™, The Northern Whig, 8 Feb.
McCartney, Lecky, 125.
T. A. Dickson, An Irish policy for a Liberal government (1885), 21. 192 Ibid., 14.
256 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
Despite the sectarian violence dominating Belfast â€“ culminating in the
riots of the summer of 1886193 â€“ a similarly â€˜secularâ€™ mind-set was shared
by Liberal Unionist rank and file. This was illustrated by the resolutions
passed by local Liberal associations, which focused on issues such as the
economic prosperity of both Ireland and Britain, and concern that Parnell
would drive â€˜trade and industryâ€™ from the country, his protectionism
indicating that economic bigotry was more dangerous than the religious
intolerance of the Catholic Church.194 The Nationalists did not realize â€“
â€˜a Belfast delegateâ€™ told a Birmingham audience â€“ that â€˜[s]ome things
legislation can do for a people, other things it cannot do. The average Irish
belief is that a Government can and may support a people. The working
people of Belfast know that a people must support a Government.â€™195
Irish Liberal Unionists stressed not only free trade and the advantages
which the island had gained and would continue to derive from it, but also
land purchase schemes (like the 1885 Ashbourne Act), which depended
on imperial credit, available only if Ireland remained within the Union.
Throughout the period 1886â€“93 they contrasted the businesslike com-
mon sense characterizing Ulster Liberal objections to Home Rule with
Gladstoneâ€™s unreasonable and obsessive commitment to a principle
based on a fantastic interpretation of Irish history.196 In terms of constitu-
tional change, they recommended the creation of elective county councils
to achieve the legitimate (as against the revolutionary) aims of Home
Rule. Again, local government would serve primarily economic objec-
tives: â€˜[it] would stimulate agriculture and industry alikeâ€™, as Isabella
Tod put it.197 By contrast, Home Rule, she argued, would penalize the
socially weaker groups such as farm workers and female householders.
Appropriating Unionist rhetoric about minority rights, she claimed that,
as an oppressed minority, women ought to be enfranchised and pointed
out that they were not â€˜party politiciansâ€™, but reasonable and rational
citizens who would vote for â€˜the party, whichever it is, that does them
The worst of the century, claiming the lives of 32 people, with 371 others being injured:
C. Hirst, Religion, politics and violence in nineteenth-century Belfast: the Pound and Sandy
Row (2002), 174â€“9. For a graphic account of the severity of one of these riots see rep.,
â€˜The rioting in Belfastâ€™, The Northern Whig, 9 Aug. 1886, 5. According to MacKnight the
violence reflected the fear of an impending Liberal/Home Rule repression, following
rumours of large bodies of Southern Catholic police concentrating around Belfast â€˜to
shoot down the loyal Protestantsâ€™ (MacKnight, Ulster as it is, 150).
Letter by â€˜A Belfast Liberalâ€™, â€˜Ulster Liberalsâ€™, The Northern Whig, 3 Feb. 1886, 8; a
similar point had been made in a leader two weeks before (ibid., 2 Jan. 1886, 4); rep.,
â€˜North Antrim Liberal associationâ€™, ibid., 8 Feb. 1886, 8.
Rep., â€˜A Belfast delegate on Home Ruleâ€™, The Northern Whig, 7 June 1886, 8.
For a good example see MacKnight, Ulster as it is, 230â€“1, 322â€“7.
Cited in rep., â€˜Ulster and Home Ruleâ€™, The Northern Whig, 25 May 1886, 8.
The rise and fall of Radical Unionism 257
justiceâ€™.198 Indeed she felt â€˜quite certainâ€™ that a Nationalist government
â€˜would relegate Catholic women in Ireland to a permanently inferior
position; and take away from Protestants all hope of public usefulness.
The same forces which have kept back the majority of women in Ireland,
and would, if parted from England, keep them down permanently, would
of course have retrogressive effects in other directions.â€™199
As well as being the instigator of the first Irish Womenâ€™s Unionist, a
founding member of the Ulster Liberal Unionist Association (ULUA), and
the only woman to be listed in that otherwise all-male list of notables.200
Thus she was an influential Liberal Unionist as well as a leading womenâ€™s
rights campaigner, and her views were widely echoed by the party rank
and file and officially endorsed by the ULUA.201 For, although the male
leaders of Liberal Unionism were not sympathetic to womenâ€™s demands,
the party did attract a number of prominent feminists avant la lettre,
including Lydia Becker, Millicent Fawcett and Kate Courtney.202 They
were motivated by different reasons, including personal antipathy to
Gladstone and hostility to what they regarded as the Liberal partyâ€™s flirtation
with â€˜socialistâ€™ policies. While the Womenâ€™s Liberal Unionist Association
was started in 1888, it is well known that women were strongly represented
within the Primrose League, an organization which, according to the
staunchly Radical Unionist Weekly Times, was so completely permeated by
their presence that it had become â€˜feminine in [its] methods and instinctsâ€™.203
While the economic and material case for the Union was thus being
continually emphasized, the Liberal Unionists initially denied that the
Home Rule controversy involved class conflict. Indeed, according to
â€˜A Working Manâ€™, Gladstone was totally mistaken in presenting the issue
as a question of â€˜the masses against the classesâ€™: certainly in North-East Ulster
working men were not in favour of it. He personally opposed the
proposal, fearing that, if implemented, â€˜capital would be driven from
our shores, and we will be forced to break up our homes and seek