his fellow Liberal Unionists and annoying the Conservatives. Fully
exploiting the fall-out from the land war â€“ which had turned Ulster
Liberalism into â€˜a substantial political movement, giving the Protestant
tenant farmers the means and opportunity to further their interests by
independent actionâ€™226 â€“ he insisted that Presbyterian tenant allegiance to
Liberal Unionism was conditional on land reform, a view which was
credible at the time.227 Russell pressed his case to the point of formally
resigning (temporarily) from the party in 1887, rejoining it when the
Salisbury government took action with the passing of another Land
Bill.228 Unappeased, Russell continued to campaign for justice for the
farmers and in 1889 his devastating denunciation of Lord Clanricarde
provoked the indignation of the Earl of Erne and considerable tension
within Irish Unionism.229
Here a comparison with both his colleague Jesse Collings and his
mentor, Joseph Chamberlain, is instructive. They were all animated by
T. W. Russell, â€˜The Irish question from the standpoint of a Liberalâ€™, Dublin University
Review, 2 (1886), pp. 105â€“14; HPD, 3, CCCXVII (12 July 1887), 540.
See, for example, the reports â€˜Womenâ€™s associationsâ€™, The Liberal Unionist, Feb. 1890,
137â€“8 and â€˜Liberal Unionism in Leeds and the West Riding of Yorkshireâ€™, ibid., Apr.
1890, 167. See also Russell, â€˜The Irish questionâ€™; and HPD, 3, CCCXVII (12 July 1887),
E.g. â€˜Mr T. W. Russell on the Oâ€™Brien episodeâ€™, Birmingham Daily Post, 8 Feb. 1889, 4;
T. W. Russell, Disturbed Ireland: the Plan of Campaign estates (1889), 7â€“9; and his two
articles in The Liberal Unionist, Oct. 1890, â€˜Affairs in Irelandâ€™, 41â€“2 and â€˜The war in
Bew and Wright, â€˜The agrarian opposition in Ulster politicâ€™, 193.
â€˜We all stand in a difficult position at present, and it is hard to tell which is the right road;
even the much lower and less important question, of which is the â€˜â€˜expedientâ€™â€™ road, is
not easy to answer. I agree with you in thinking that Russell has done a good deal which
is calculated to irritate and offend. At bottom I believe he is right, and that we should
really be much weaker in Ulster if no Unionist took the line he does. He is very extreme
no doubt in some matters, but he does much to atone for any errors in that direction by
his great ability and zeal in the cause of the union. There are people equally extreme on
the other side, who certainly do not possess the compensating qualities I have spoken of.â€™
(H. O. Arnold-Forster to H. de F. Montgomery, 9 Dec. 1894, D627/428/266.)
Loughlin, â€˜Russellâ€™, 49. Despite his resignations he â€˜[continued] to work â€“ though
independently â€“ with the Liberal Unionistsâ€™ (The Liberal Unionist, Sept. 1887, 26).
See T. W. Russell, The Plan of Campaign illustrated (1889) and the response of the Earl of
Erne, in P. Buckland (ed.), Irish Unionism, 1885â€“1923 (1973), 24â€“6; for the tensions that
this caused within Ulster Unionism see G. Walker, A history of the Ulster Unionist party
264 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
a zeal for radical reform. However, from as early as 1887 Chamberlain
reached the conclusion that the continuation of the Unionist alliance was
worth major compromises with the Conservatives â€“ for example, over
coercion and Church disestablishment,230 but also over the comparative
merits of social paternalism over popular agitation.231 Aware of his sub-
ordinate position and debt to Chamberlain, Collings remained what the
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography describes as â€˜a loyal colleague and
a good party servantâ€™.232 When in office with the Salisbury and Balfour
governments (1895â€“1902) he devoted his time and energy to adminis-
trative work, although he published extensively on the question of land
reform.233 By contrast, as we shall see in the next chapter, Russell was not
prepared to water down his agrarian radicalism for the sake of the
Unionist alliance and continued to rely on his regional power base in
South Tyrone to affirm his de facto independence from both the Ulster
Liberal Unionists and the Salisbury government, even at the cost of
enhanced tensions within Unionism. While this resulted in a bitter split
within the ULUA, in 1892 his own majority increased from 99 to 372.234
Russellâ€™s readiness to adopt sectarian rhetoric reflected his peculiar
relation to Ulster Liberalism as well as his faddist background and related
tendency to exaggerate a case in order to provoke a strong emotional
response. It also reflected his awareness that he needed the votes of both
Conservatives and Orangemen in order to defeat William Oâ€™Brien â€“ who
was likely to gain the bulk of the Catholic vote, irrespective of whether
Russell played the sectarian card or not. Thus his 1886 electoral address
elaborated on emblematic cases of National League violence and moon-
lighter cruelty â€“ although the victims mentioned in some of his examples
were Catholic farmers â€“ and enlarged upon seventeenth-century episodes
of religious persecution, recalling â€˜how Tyrconnellâ€™s forces drove the
scattered Protestants of Ulster before them until a stand was finally
made â€˜â€˜behind the bulwarks of the city of refugeâ€™â€™ â€™ in Londonderry.235
For an early example see J. Chamberlain to J. Craig Brown, 5 July 1887, JC 6/6/1A/3,
about the adoption of his son Austen by the Burghs constituency.
As early as October 1887, in a speech he delivered at Coleraine, he started to â€˜undoâ€™ the
work which Ulster Liberals had carried out from 1880, arguing that â€˜it was not necessary
[for the tenant farmers] to engage in autonomous activityâ€™, but that they should instead
rely on â€˜elite initiativeâ€™ (Bew and Wright, â€˜The agrarian opposition in Ulster politicsâ€™,
226). See T. A. Jenkins, â€˜Hartington, Chamberlain and the Unionist alliance,
1886â€“1895â€™, Parliamentary History, 2, 1 (1992), 108â€“38.
ODNB, vol. XII, 668.
Collings, Land reform and The colonization of rural Britain (1914). Cf. J. Collings and
J. L. Green, Life of the Right Hon. Jesse Collings (London, 1920).
H. de F. Montgomery to J. Chamberlain, 31 July 1895, D/627/428/273. Cf. Loughlin,
â€˜Russellâ€™, 51, 54, 57.
Rep., â€˜The representation of South Tyroneâ€™, The Northern Whig, 18 June 1886, 7.
The rise and fall of Radical Unionism 265
If in 1886 â€˜political reputations in Ireland were built upon spectacular
extremismâ€™,236 Russell showed that he could play the game as well as
any Conservative, allegedly â€˜[convincing] thousands of Non-conformists
[in England] that the Roman Catholic savage will persecute the
While this was also what Chamberlain and arguably many other
Nonconformist leaders actually believed anyway, it would seem that
Russell opportunistically used, rather than actually shared their preju-
dice.238 His ideology was more sophisticated: in particular, he insisted
on the link between urbanization and the question of religious liberty in
Catholic countries. He argued that in Ireland the problem was com-
pounded by the overwhelmingly rural nature of society: â€˜Ireland is not a
country of large cities and towns where free thought and intellectual life
combine to defeat clerical intolerance. Ireland â€“ at least three-fourths of
it â€“ is dominated by peasants . . . [who] are to a large extent, illiterate . . .
Over these men the Church rules, and would rule.â€™239 To the question of
whether religious freedom would not be as safe in Home Rule Ireland as
in Catholic France, Belgium or Italy, he answered that the comparison
simply confirmed his concern: â€˜I maintain that in these countries minor-
ities are safe and free, just in proportion as the political power of the
Church has been destroyed by Liberalism. In Ireland, men, no matter
what the patriots say, are Catholics first, and Irishmen after.â€™240
Moreover, he feared that the urbanized and industrial North-East
would be fiscally exploited and economically ruined by the peasantry of
the South and West, who â€˜had no knowledge of the laws which governed
commercial pursuitsâ€™.241 This clash between city and countryside was
serious enough to contain â€˜a distinct menace of civil war. This is undoubt-
edly what it may come to.â€™242
Such allusions to civil war were commonplace among the most intran-
sigent Protestant preachers, like the Revd Hanna,243 but not so popular
A. Jackson, â€˜Irish Unionism and the Russellite threatâ€™, Irish Historical Studies, 25, 100
In W. H. Smithâ€™s words, 20 Sep. 1889, cited in ibid., 378.
Loughlin, â€˜Russellâ€™, 46â€“7; cf. Quinault, â€˜Joseph Chamberlainâ€™, 79â€“80; and Loughlin,
â€˜Joseph Chamberlainâ€™, 215.
T. W. Russell, Ireland. No. XXIX. The case for Irish Loyalists, published by the Irish Loyal
and Patriotic Union (1886), 10â€“11.
Ibid., 11; for a vigorous attack on â€˜priestly ruleâ€™ see his speech in â€˜Mr T. W. Russell, MP,
in Ulsterâ€™, The Liberal Unionist, Oct. 1891, 44.
â€˜Mr T. W. Russell, MP, on the Irish questionâ€™, The Northern Whig, 11 Apr. 1889, 8.
Rep., â€˜Mr T. W. Russell on the Ulster questionâ€™, The Liberal Unionist, May 1892, 189.
See his speech in â€˜Unionist demonstration in the Ulster Hallâ€™, The Northern Whig, 16
Feb. 1889, 8.
266 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
with Ulster Liberal Unionists at the time â€“ although Isabella Tod com-
pared the 1892 Ulster Convention to the 1782 Volunteersâ€™ Convention at
Dungannon â€˜which, created on a sudden emergency to meet a great
danger, practically ruled Ireland for nearly a decade by its pressure
upon the otherwise weak â€˜â€˜Grattanâ€™s Parliamentâ€™â€™ â€™. The comparison
implied an allusion to the Unionistsâ€™ potential military might and she
underscored this point by repeatedly referring to â€˜the duty laid upon them
by the Providence of Godâ€™ and the sovereign binding power of their
individual conscience at a stage when the struggle was about â€˜[r]eligious
liberty (not mere toleration, but freedom of personal and associated
action) [as] the condition of civil libertyâ€™.244 As we have already seen,
until then Tod had consistently dismissed sectarianism and other emo-
tional celebrations of the past and it is possible that her allusions to them
in 1892 reflected an attempt to recapture part of the shrinking Liberal
Unionist constituency in Ulster.
By contrast, as Russell became more confident about his grip on South
Tyrone, he argued that the danger was based not on sectarian divides, but
rather on specific material grievances. By the same token, he denied that
the fierce Unionism of the Ulster Presbyterians reflected either the
strength of the Orange Order or an ingrained sectarianism of the Belfast
merchants and artisans; instead, it was a function of their capitalist mind-
set and resolve to cling to that â€˜commercial societyâ€™ which had made
Ulster prosperity originally possible.245
Thus, in contrast to what Loughlin has argued, in the early 1890s
there was little evidence of Russell espousing an â€˜opportunistâ€™ approach
to Unionism â€“ that is, one which depended on his expectation that the
Ulster farmers were more likely to obtain landownership from
Westminster than from a Parliament in Dublin.246 In fact, the opposite
was true: he was one of the earliest proponents of the consistently inte-
grationist view, resurrected by Enoch Powell in the 1970s, according to
which the sovereign British Parliament had the right to cut Ireland off
from the imperial connection, but not the right to transfer the allegiance
of the Ulster Unionists to another Parliament â€˜and say in such a case who
our masters are to beâ€™.247
I. M. S. Tod, â€˜Ulster Convention: preliminary meetingâ€™, The Liberal Unionist, May 1892,
Ibid. A fortnight later the same point was made by a Miss Richardson, BA â€“ another
Ulster Liberal Unionist â€“ again speaking in Birmingham at a womenâ€™s meeting:
Birmingham Daily Post, 27 Apr. 1889, 5.
Loughlin, â€˜Russellâ€™, 47.
Letter, â€˜Mr T. W. Russell on the Ulster questionâ€™, The Liberal Unionist, May 1892, 189.
The rise and fall of Radical Unionism 267
The impotence of being earnest
The English people â€˜[had] always been known for their sound, practical
common senseâ€™, conducive to â€˜systematic and practical progressâ€™.248
â€˜Honest Menâ€™ concerned about the common good would reject
Gladstoneâ€™s â€˜sentimental Liberalismâ€™ and flock to Chamberlain, the
â€˜manlyâ€™ patriot.249 This was the Liberal Unionistsâ€™ plea from 1887. By
1892, however, the insistence with which it was repeated belied a massive
erosion of confidence within the party. Whether or not their analysis of
the English â€˜national characterâ€™ was accurate, it was clear that
Chamberlainâ€™s contempt for sentimentalism was not shared by tradi-
tional Liberal voters. Already in April 1886 a caucus official had observed
with dismay that â€˜most men are moved through their emotions rather
than through their reason, & the very name of Gladstone is a most potent
instrument to conquer with. The creed of the majority seems to be â€“ â€˜â€˜If
you cannot see eye to eye with Mr Gladstone in this Irish matter, you are
no Liberal.â€™â€™ To criticize is impudence, to oppose, treason.â€™250 Coercion
in Ireland made things worse. As a Liberal Unionist working man admit-
ted in frustration, the Gladstonians shirked all the economic and con-
stitutional complications attending their Home Rule proposals, â€˜[t]he
chief point they dwell upon is that of what they call Coercionâ€™, but
â€˜[t]his seems to raise enthusiasm at Radical meetingsâ€™.251
Sentimentalism about coercion â€“ what Peter Clarke and Patrick Joyce
have described as the â€˜politics of conscienceâ€™ and â€˜the primacy of a
religious over an intellectual sensibilityâ€™252 â€“ was further excited by itin-
erant Nationalist propagandists, who stirred English sensitivity with lurid
accounts of government oppression (see chapter 2, above). In order to
counteract their influence, the ULUA decided to develop its own brand
of sentimentalist propaganda by sending over to England and Scotland a
number of its own â€˜missionariesâ€™. They were hand-picked: â€˜good men â€“
Methodists if possible, and working men â€“ to assist at the by-elections,
and to help to stem the torrent of Nationalist misstatements which are
H. Huth, Hon. Sec. Huddersfield Liberal Unionist Association, and Yorkshire Liberal
Unionist Federation, â€˜The future of Liberal Unionismâ€™, The Liberal Unionist, Nov.
F. Cammarano, â€˜To save England from declineâ€™: the national party of common sense: British
Conservatism and the challenge of democracy (1885â€“1892) (2001), 32.
John Borastin, Secretary of the East Cornwall Liberal Association, to Jesse Collings, 16
Apr. 1886, JC 8/5/3/12.
Letter by â€˜A working manâ€™, â€˜A working manâ€™s appeal to his fellow-workmenâ€™, The Liberal
Unionist, Aug. 1888, 5.
P. Clarke, A question of leadership (1991), 28; Joyce, Democratic subjects, 217.
268 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
poured out on every election platformâ€™.253 With the help of the chairman
of the Belfast Trades Council they carefully selected seventeen such men
and dispatched them across the channel. Their success and effectiveness
forced the Liberals to organize â€˜speaking corpsâ€™ of Protestant working-
class Home Rulers.254 The resulting competition between two varieties of
bleeding-heart evangelists provided the fullest possible demonstration of
the English susceptibility to sentimentalist politics.
Although in December 1885 Chamberlain had claimed that â€˜[t]he
English working classes . . . are distinctly hostile to Home Ruleâ€™,255 his
hopes of a bright radical future without Gladstonianism were soon
quashed: by 1892 Liberal Unionists everywhere were struggling to retain