individualistic. In other words, they realized that disgruntled artisans
and working-class radicals could perhaps be persuaded to turn away
from the Liberal party, but were not likely to reject self-help and related
values. By the same token, the main motivation for the Weekly Times
supporting the ILP and the SDF was not enthusiasm for â€˜socialismâ€™, but
â€˜disgustâ€™ with the alternatives facing â€˜the English Democracyâ€™. It praised
and endorsed the ILP for being both â€˜aboveâ€™ party squabbles and single-
mindedly devoted to â€˜the promotion of the welfare of the workersâ€™.222
Then, the real question was to find a leader who could unify such
currents of radicalism and forge them into an effective political force
again. For the Weekly Times the rising stars were H. H. Asquith,
R. B. Haldane, H. Fowler and A. H. D. Acland.223 It prophesied, quite
accurately, that Asquith â€˜has but to wait, and wisely begin to reorganise a
new real Liberal Party and he may be its chief, and Prime Minister ere
the coming century has scored many yearsâ€™.224 As for Acland, his strength
was that he could reconcile the crusading humanitarianism of the
Gladstonian tradition with the social radical vision of â€˜positiveâ€™ liberty,
which would â€˜improve, directly or indirectly . . . the hard lot of, and
increase the leisure of many of the workers . . . develop[ing] . . . for those
who were at a disadvantage in the struggle of life, fuller and wider
opportunities to attain better thingsâ€™.225
with the conditions of Labour . . . We say to the workers that they have no right to look to
rich sympathisers for aid; they have themselves the power to do all that is necessary if
they will but organize their forces and give expression to their wishes at the ballot-box . . .
For it is not an eight-hour day by law enacted, nor a pension to every disabled worker,
nor colonies for the unemployed that is the goal. These are but easy stages on the march.
There can be no final solution of the Labour problem till Rent and Usury cease, and
production is maintained to supply the necessities of the community.â€™
â€˜Manifesto of the joint committee of Socialist bodiesâ€™, WT&E, 7 May 1893, 1.
L.a., â€˜The Independent Labour Partyâ€™, WT&E, 22 Jan. 1893, 8; this reaction against
party politics had been going on for years, especially since 1886: see, for example, l.a.,
â€˜Humbug all roundâ€™, WT&E, 14 July 1889, 8.
L.a., â€˜New lamps for old onesâ€™ and â€˜The future of Liberalismâ€™, in WT&E, 30 June
â€˜Powder and shotâ€™, WT&E, 21 July. 1895, 9.
A. H. D. Acland, â€˜Liberalism and Labourâ€™, NLF Reports, 1893, 40.
Social radicalism and the â€˜popular frontâ€™ 317
Acland failed to rise to these expectations, but crusading humanitarian-
ism continued to be the common feature of various currents of radical-
ism, including the ILP. Indeed, in October 1896 Rosebery resigned the
party leadership, apparently feeling himself to be no match for the octo-
genarian Gladstone, who continued to mesmerize what Rosebery
described as â€˜the intriguersâ€™ among the Liberals.226 His words reflected
not only his failure to unify the party, but also his awareness that he was
â€˜in apparent difference with a considerable mass of the Liberal party on
the Eastern Questionâ€™.227 He was alluding to the Armenian atrocities.
The government had found out about them in December 1894 and
Rosebery, the then Prime Minister, protested to the Porte in January
1895, but Harcourt and others within the government found his action
weak and indecisive. In June Bryce urged the Foreign Secretary, Lord
Kimberley, to publish a report on the massacres in order to awaken the
public conscience, but he refused.228 Although the Ottoman authorities
tried to prevent foreign journalists from visiting the areas involved in the
disturbances, news leaked out through the Russian border. Rumours and
early reports were eventually confirmed in February 1895.229 The wom-
enâ€™s Liberal associations were among the first to take up the issue.230 From
April spontaneous non-partisan meetings were organized in various parts
of the country: Gladstone was invited to speak at Chester, but declined on
account of bad health, although in May he did send a letter of support to
the organizers of the National Protest Demonstration Committee.231
Meanwhile, important gatherings had taken place in various parts of the
country. At St Jamesâ€™ Hall, in early May, the Duke of Argyll, the Duke of
Westminster (both of whom had already been active in the 1876 Bulgarian
agitation232), the Moderator of the Church of Scotland, the Archbishop of
York and various bishops, as well as Nonconformist leaders, spoke at a
â€˜weighty and impressiveâ€™ demonstration which â€˜testifie[d] to the passionate
feeling aroused in this country by the accounts . . . of the cruel and shameful
treatment of some of the subjects of the Sultan, whose rights and liberties
Rosebery to C. Geake, 6 Oct. 1896 and 7 Oct. 1896, in National Liberal Club
Collection, Bristol Univ. Library, P14560 and P14561.
Cited in NLFAR, Norwich, 18 Mar. 1897, 5.
Stansky, Ambitions and strategies, 125â€“7; McKinstry, Rosebery, 389â€“92.
The Times, 4 Feb. 1895, 6; 23 Feb. 1895, 5; 29 Mar. 1895, 9.
See meeting of 15 Feb. 1895 and Maria Richardsâ€™ circular of the same date in U. Masson
(ed.), â€˜Womenâ€™s rights and womanly dutiesâ€™: the Aberdare Womenâ€™s Liberal Association,
1891â€“1910 (2005), 156â€“7.
The Times, 11 Apr. 1895, 3; 7 May 1895, 12.
Foster, â€˜The intellectual dukeâ€™, 155â€“7; Thompson, William Morris, 211.
318 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
had been especially placed under the safeguards of the last great European
settlement of Eastern affairsâ€™. A letter from Gladstone was read out: the
former Liberal leader â€˜expressed the hope that the Turkish Government
would be forced â€˜â€˜by moral means, if possibleâ€™â€™ to give securities against the
recurrence of the horrorsâ€™.233 He was eventually persuaded to address a
meeting in August, at a time (after the general election) when it would not
be open to the criticism that it was held in a partisan spirit â€“ a concern
shared by all the Liberal leaders.234 Although they meant to support the
Unionist government, rather than embarrass it, the rank and file and
Nonconformists took a different line. In early December John Clifford,
speaking at the Council of the Free Churches, sounded a defiant note:
It is impossible to sit still and read the disclosures made in the Press from day to
day. It makes oneâ€™s blood boil . . . Whilst the diplomatists debate the people
perish. Little children are butchered like sheep, women are so brutally treated
that they dread death less than the arrival of the Turk . . . Our own â€˜treaty
obligationsâ€™ are trampled under foot. Our Governments have withheld from us
the â€˜Consular reportsâ€™ . . .235
A few days later Gladstone came out in his support. In a public letter to
Clifford, he stated his confidence that Britain â€˜[was] quite able to cope
not only with Turkey, but with five or six Turkeys, and she is under
peculiar obligationsâ€™. He added that he hoped that â€˜the Government has
not been in any degree responsible for bringing about the present almost
incredible . . . situationâ€™.236 On both counts his words implied criticism of
Salisburyâ€™s policy and were interpreted as such. Meanwhile the deep link
between Nonconformist Christianity and Liberal politics characterizing
many parts of the country ensured that the issue remained at the forefront
of local associations, with the women in particular becoming passionately
involved and invoking the application of â€˜Gladstoneâ€™s â€˜â€˜bag and baggageâ€™â€™
policy with regard to the Sultanâ€™.237 In March 1896, in a speech at
Swansea, Asquith criticized Salisbury for what he regarded as his inept
and counterproductive handling of the situation.238
The Times, 8 May 1895, 9.
â€˜Mr Gladstone on the Armenian questionâ€™, The Times, 7 Aug. 1895, 4; l.a., ibid., 7.
â€˜Armenia and the Church Council of the Free Churches of Londonâ€™, The Times, 7 Dec.
â€˜Mr Gladstone and the Armenian questionâ€™, The Times, 18 Dec. 1895, 12 (my emphasis).
See, for example, Masson (ed.), Aberdare Womenâ€™s Liberal Association, meetings of
24 Jan. and 27 Jan. 1896, 175â€“6. This association continued to support the victims of
the Armenian massacres at least until the spring of 1900: see the entries for 23 and
27 Apr. and 4 May 1900 in ibid., 216â€“17.
The Times, 23 Mar. 1896, 7.
Social radicalism and the â€˜popular frontâ€™ 319
While Rosebery and Spencer insisted that the question should not be
treated as a party issue, the wave of popular meetings went the other way:
at Bradford, Rochdale, Shoreditch, Coventry, Glasgow, Northampton,
Bolton, Nottingham and elsewhere well-attended demonstrations addressed
by local Liberal and socialist leaders, as well as Nonconformist and Anglican
clergymen, demanded immediate action, of an unspecified but presumably
military character, to stop the atrocities.239 H. W. Massingham, then editor of
the Daily Chronicle, tried to galvanize the Liberal leaders into taking up the
Armenian crusade, and, with the help of other humanitarians, including
James Bryce, reassured Gladstone about the strength of the popular agita-
tion.240 Eventually, the GOM overcame his reluctance and on 24 September
addressed a popular meeting at Henglerâ€™s Circus in Liverpool. It was an
important political endorsement of an otherwise largely spontaneous cam-
paign, which had experienced no encouragement from the Liberal party
leaders. Gladstone called for a â€˜humanitarian crusadeâ€™, taking care to stress
that this was no religious campaign of Christians against Muslims, nor of
Europeans against Turks: â€˜The ground on which we stand here it is not
British nor [sic] European, but it is human.â€™241 He demanded the issuing of
a â€˜peremptory noteâ€™ indicating the suspension of diplomatic relations. Britain
should stop short of any action which could precipitate a general European
war, but should renounce â€˜neutralityâ€™ in this matter, declaring that â€˜we will
not acknowledge as a nation within the family of nations the ruler who is
himself the responsible agent of these monstrous actsâ€™, and only resorting to
military action if and when it was deemed appropriate.
As The Times pointed out, it was not clear what course of action
Gladstone was actually recommending,242 but the spirit of moral outrage
pervading his speech was echoed at popular meetings in Carlisle,
Newcastle, Leicester, Portsmouth, Guildford, Leith, Sheffield and
Reading (the last convened by the Evangelical Alliance).243 Such popular
demonstrations became increasingly belligerent. At West Bromwich a
meeting was introduced by a band playing â€˜Rule Britanniaâ€™ and the
National Anthem, and concluded by a resolution pledging â€˜loyal support
in any resolute steps which they may consider expedient to take in order
to put an end to the barbaritiesâ€™.244 In October two important meetings
took place in Hyde Park, attended by many labour leaders including
Henry Broadhurst and John Burns, and at St Jamesâ€™ Hall, chaired by the
The Times, 16 Sep. 1896, 3; 21 Sep. 1896, 3; 22 Sep. 1896, 4; 24 Sep. 1896, 4 (including
a resolution of the SDF).
Stansky, Ambitions and strategies, 207.
â€˜Mr Gladstone on the Armenian questionâ€™, The Times, 25 Sep. 1896, 5.
L.a., The Times, 29 Sep. 1896, 7. 243 The Times, 26 Sep. 1896, 5; 28 Sep. 1896, 5.
The Times, 29 Sep. 1896, 8.
320 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
Duke of Westminster, a member of the Anglo-Armenian Association, and
supported by many Anglican and Nonconformist clergymen, including
Dr Kane of Belfast.245 Although Bryce and other Liberal leaders tried to
restrain rank-and-file criticism of the government, the feelings expressed at
these demonstrations were endorsed by the NLF.246 Many Liberals
wanted their leaders to exploit the emotion generated by reports of indis-
criminate massacres in the Ottoman Empire in order to create a â€˜Bulgarian
atrocitiesâ€™ effect â€“ similar to when in 1876 the party had been lifted up from
the slough of despond by the Peopleâ€™s Williamâ€™s enlivening gospel.247 They
included a broad cross-section of supporters and activists â€“ ranging from
the â€˜Liberal Forwardsâ€™ group to the peace movement and Nonconformist
leaders such as Clifford and Hugh Price Hughes.248
Perhaps because of its limited electoral consequence, the Armenian
agitation has been neglected by historians,249 but at the time it caused a
remarkable display of political emotion and stirred up radical opinion not
only in Britain, but also in Ireland, where a vigorous campaign involved
both the Parnellites and the anti-Parnellites. While there was hardly any
Nationalist contribution to the debate at Westminster,250 and no official
reaction from either the INL or the INF, the press was up in arms about
the issue. Irish newspapers had no special correspondents in the Ottoman
Empire, and relied on the London press for their supply of news,251 but
the Armenian crisis was regularly covered by detailed reports from as
early as December 1894â€“January 1895.252 The opening salvo in the
Irish agitation coincided with Gladstoneâ€™s eighty-sixth birthday. On
â€˜The Armenian demonstrationâ€™, The Times, 12 Oct. 1896, 6; Brown, John Burns, 75;
â€˜The Armenian question: great meeting in St Jamesâ€™ Hallâ€™, The Times, 20 Oct. 1896, 4.
The Times, 24 Nov. 1896, 10; 22 Dec. 1896, 4.
Minutes of the Western Committee (Glasgow) of the Scottish Liberal Association,
7 Oct. 1896, 264, and of the Executive Council of the Scottish Liberal Association,
9 Oct. 1896, 266, NLS, Acc. 11765/36. H. W. Massingham attacked Rosebery for
following â€˜the dogma of â€˜â€˜British interestsâ€™â€™ as against the interests of humanityâ€™ (Laity,
British peace movement, 143).
Laity, British peace movement, 138â€“9. The â€˜Liberal Forwardsâ€™ were to play an active role
on the pro-Boer side during the political debates surrounding the South African war at
the turn of the century: A. Davey, The British pro-Boers, 1877â€“1902 (1978), 72â€“3.
But see P. Marsh, â€˜Lord Salisbury and the Ottoman massacresâ€™, Journal of British Studies,
11, 2 (1972), 62â€“83, R. Douglas, â€˜Britain and the Armenian question, 1894â€“7â€™,
Historical Journal, 19 (1976), 113â€“33, and the rather partisan J. Salt, Imperialism,
Evangelism and the Ottoman Armenians (London, 1993).
Questions as to the massacres were asked by J. C. Flynn (Cork North), HPD, 4th series,
XLI, 1435, 1435 and XLII, 25 June 1896, 69. Michael Davitt, usually very responsive to
issues of human rights, was silent on the Armenian question.
Especially on the Daily News and Daily Telegraph: l.a., â€˜Armeniaâ€™, FJ, 16 May 1895, 4;
l.a., Cork Examiner, 22 Mar. 1895, 4.
Rep., â€˜The Armenian atrocities: a veritable reign of terror: graphic account of the Sasun
massacre: horrible butcheries of women and childrenâ€™, FJ, 9 Jan. 1895, 5.
Social radicalism and the â€˜popular frontâ€™ 321
29 December 1894 the GOM received a deputation from the Armenian
National Church, delivering â€“ in the Freemanâ€™s words â€“ an â€˜address of the
greatest possible portentâ€™:
â€˜As long as I have a voice I hope that voice upon occasion will be uttered on behalf
of humanity and truth.â€™ Mr Gladstone spent his birthday in doing another good
deed for the sacred cause of humanity and Christian civilisation. His long silence
has been broken, and broken by words which will ring throughout Europe, and
instil a healthy fear into the Power that is supposed to control the butchers of
Armenia . . . Mr Gladstone recalls the story of Bulgaria. It was thought a great
extravagance then . . . when he declared that the Turk and all his belongings
should go out of Bulgaria bag and baggage. But they did go out of Bulgaria, and
it is evidently Mr Gladstoneâ€™s thought, â€˜if these tales of murder, violation and