The Cork Examiner took a very similar line from March 1895,254 while the
Freemanâ€™s returned to the topic in April. Once again Gladstone, who had
received a second Armenian deputation, provided the opportunity.
â€˜Everything connected in any way with Mr Gladstone is of interest to
the public,â€™ argued the Dublin daily:
He has attained a position unique amongst living men. The blatant voice of
calumny is silenced in his regard and admission universally expressed. The
pilgrimage of Armenian refugees to Hawarden on Easter Saturday is an incident
of very special interest indeed. They came with a chalice and rare MS for the great
man who has fixed the gaze of the civilised world on the atrocities they have
endured and kindled universal indignation against their persecutors.255
Gladstoneâ€™s attitude to foreign policy â€“ and his Liberalism in general â€“
were perceived to be primarily about humanitarianism, the political
relevance of Christian ethics and the priority of moral imperatives on
Realpolitik. This was the line for the Irish to follow, as they â€˜place[d] the
cause of humanity above that spirit which is given the name of Jingoism,
and with a double dose of which Englishmen seem to have been bornâ€™.256
â€˜Mr Gladstone is too much of a Christian to believe that great nations can
with honour to themselves and without treason to their mission ask â€˜â€˜Am
I my brotherâ€™s keeper?â€™â€™ There is a conscience that prescribes a duty of
charity here as in the narrower scope of social and individual action.â€™257
L. a., â€˜The unteachable Turkâ€™, FJ, 31 Dec. 1894, 4.
L. a., Cork Examiner, 1 Mar. 1895, 4.
L. a.,â€˜Mr Gladstone at Hawardenâ€™, FJ, 16 Apr. 1895, 4.
L. a., Cork Examiner, 22 Mar. 1895, 4.
L. a., â€˜The unteachable Turkâ€™, FJ, 31 Dec. 1894, 4. See also l.a., â€˜Mr Gladstone at
Hawardenâ€™, FJ, 16 Apr. 1895, 4: â€˜the magnitude of Mr Gladstoneâ€™s services to
humanity . . . weak as his voice has become, it is strong enough to thrill Christian
Europe still with a sense of the duty to the victims of the Turkâ€™s oppressionâ€™.
322 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
What the Ottomans had perpetrated against both the Bulgarians and
the Armenians was enough to raise the question of â€˜whether the Turkish
Empire in its present shape can continue to existâ€™.258 Already in 1883 the
Dublin daily had argued that the one advantage which the friends of
liberty could derive from the otherwise deplorable British invasion of
Egypt was that it had finally exploded the old doctrine that the
Ottoman Empire was to be preserved as â€˜the Western outpost of the
English seizure of Indiaâ€™. After Egypt had been sacrificed for the per-
ceived advantage of the British Empire, it was to be hoped that Ireland
and the rest of the United Kingdom would not â€˜be dragged into another
disreputable war to sustain the hideous and corrupt Mahomedan [sic]
power for the benefit of the commercial class in Englandâ€™.259 In the
context of the 1895â€“6 crisis, this change in the geo-political priorities of
British imperialism meant that â€˜[i]f Russia takes the case into its hands the
sympathy of the world will go with it, whatever the remedyâ€™.260 Unilateral
action by Russia would be better than inertia, though joint intervention
by the powers was the best way forward. This of course involved reac-
tivating the â€˜Concert of Europeâ€™ â€“ or the Berlin â€˜Treaty Powersâ€™ â€“ for the
carrying out of its classical Gladstonian function of international tribunal
and policing. However, the Freemanâ€™s Journal was firmly opposed to any
policy which might reopen the Eastern crisis in the shape of a general
European war,261 and indignantly denounced the Ottomansâ€™ claim that
their methods in the Armenian provinces were no worse than British
coercion in Ireland.
Though the emphasis was usually on the â€˜non-partisanâ€™ nature of the
campaign, support for Gladstone during this crisis was explicitly
acknowledged to be evidence of the Irish â€˜devotion to one Liberal doc-
trine, the support of the Christian races in the Eastâ€™.262 Each and every
public statement by the GOM on the matter was not only reported, but
also extensively commented upon in terms which were as flattering as if
Gladstone had been Parnellâ€™s one and only true successor, rather than a
retired British statesman. He continued to be honoured as the only hope
that Ireland, and indeed the cause of international justice, still had.263
L. a., â€˜The unteachable Turkâ€™, FJ, 31 Dec. 1894, 4. 259 L. a., FJ, 13 Jan. 1883, 4.
L. a., FJ, 22 Mar. 1895, 4.
L. a., â€˜Armeniaâ€™, FJ, 9 May 1895, 4. Likewise, in March 1885 the Freemanâ€™s Journal
had praised Gladstoneâ€™s handling of the 1885 Afghan crisis, since his â€˜happy
audacityâ€™ avoided a war with Russia (L. a., FJ, 9 Mar. 1885, 4).
L. a., â€˜Armeniaâ€™, FJ, 9 May 1895, 4.
L. a., â€˜Mr Gladstone on Armeniaâ€™, FJ, 7 Aug. 1895, 4; â€˜Mr Gladstone on the Armenian
atrocities: he calls for firm and determined actionâ€™, FJ, 8 May 1895, 5; l.a., Cork
Examiner, 31 May 1895, 4.
Social radicalism and the â€˜popular frontâ€™ 323
Gladstone was indeed the only hero at the time, and the Armenian
massacres offered further evidence of the unparalleled standing of the
Grand Old Man in the Constitutional Nationalist pantheon (although the
Parnellites accused him of giving mere verbal sympathy when he knew that
he would never have to act on his rhetoric). In September 1896 the
announcement that he would deliver a speech in Liverpool was repeated
several times in various articles during the days preceding the event.264
Eventually, the full report of Gladstoneâ€™s speech265 was accompanied by a
leader expressing unreserved support for the GOMâ€™s â€˜clear, strong, elo-
quent pronouncement in favour of a definite, practical, and feasible policy
on the Turkish questionâ€™. The article further argued
That the opinion of Ireland is absolutely unanimous on this question was shown
by the successful meeting held last evening in Dublin. The platform represented
every party and every section in the country. His eminence cardinal Logue sent his
good wishes and a generous donation to the Armenian Relief Fund. The
Protestant Primate proposed the chief resolution, which was seconded by Revd
Father Lynch, OSF . . . The declaration of Mr Swift McNeill, that â€˜this devilâ€™s
work must ceaseâ€™, commended itself to the sentiment of the meeting. No suffering
people ever appealed to Ireland in vain for sympathy. The Armenians are being
persecuted for their nationality as well as for their religion . . . Those who have
known suffering themselves are the best messengers of consolation.266
The meeting had taken place in Leinster Hall, Dublin, in the evening of
24 September. According to the report, the meeting was both popular
and representative: â€˜[t]he Hall was crowded, and amongst the audience
there was a very large percentage of ladiesâ€™.267 On the platform, together
with Catholic priests, Protestant ministers and Episcopalian bishops,
there was the Lord Mayor, Alfred Webb (the former president of the
Indian National Congress) and Swift McNeill, a Protestant Nationalist
MP.268 In October a non-partisan Armenian Relief Fund was established
as an inter-confessional Christian and humanitarian association, operat-
ing with the blessing of Cardinal Logue, the Archbishop of Armagh.269
The Roman Catholic hierarchy in Ireland was echoed by the British
â€˜Mr Gladstone to speak on Thursdayâ€™, FJ, 22 Sep. 1896, 3; â€˜The Liverpool meetingâ€™,
FJ, 23 Sep. 1896, 3.
Rep., â€˜Mr Gladstone and the Armenian horrorsâ€™, FJ, 25 Sep. 1896, 5.
L. a., â€˜A policy for Lord Salisburyâ€™, FJ, 25 Sep. 1896, 4.
Rep., â€˜Sympathy for the Armenians: enthusiastic meeting in Dublinâ€™, FJ, 25 Sep.
1895, p. 3.
Ibid. However, when one â€˜who appeared to be a working manâ€™ came forward and
climbed the platform for the purpose of moving an amendment, he was forcibly ejected
twice. The incident provided a suitable illustration of the subordination of working men
in Irish politics, in so far as the â€˜notablesâ€™ â€“ whatever their confessional allegiance â€“
retained what in Gramscian terms was their â€˜hegemonyâ€™.
Rep., â€˜Irish Armenian Relief Fundâ€™, FJ, 22 Sep. 1896, 3.
324 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
branches of that confession, with â€˜some outspoken utterancesâ€™ being
voiced by bishops in England, and the Vicar apostolic of Wales, who
expressed â€˜heartfelt detestation of the horrible outrages . . . perpetrated by
the â€˜â€˜Great Assassinâ€™â€™ [the Sultan]â€™.270
During the following weeks and months the Freemanâ€™s Journal con-
tinued to conduct an unrelenting campaign to stop the atrocities. Graphic
reports of the massacres were published almost daily, while leading
articles thundered with Gladstonian zeal. One of the reports, entitled
â€˜An Irish eyewitness describes the butcheriesâ€™, narrated how
The Turks started to murder the Armenians the day we arrived . . . It was awful.
Thousands and thousands of them were killed. I have not yet heard how they took
the news in England, or how it was reported home, but we were expecting to see
the English fleet coming up every morning to blow the place to pieces. I would
have lent a willing hand, for I never saw such cruelty . . . All through the night I
could hear the cries of the people who were being killed close to where the ship was
lying. I believe the Armenians are exterminated in some districts of the town . . .271
It soon became clear that the Royal Navy would not come, and Britainâ€™s
inability to intervene was sarcastically described as â€˜the brilliant result of
the policy of the Jingoes in Egyptâ€™.272 Though Gladstone had arguably
contributed more than anyone else to the latter policy, he was again
exempted from most of the blame: â€˜[t]he impotence of England is . . .
Lord Salisburyâ€™s doing. Jingoism has met its nemesis. The spirit of it,
expressed in British foreign policy, has provoked that distrust in which
the Sultan has found his protection.â€™273 The Conservatives were respon-
sible because they had opposed the 1878 treaty of San Stefano (which had
tried to force the Ottomans to reform their government of Crete and other
Christian regions of their empire) and accepted responsibilities which the
United Kingdom found quite impossible to discharge.274 Moreover, by
fostering the suspicion that British foreign policy was inevitably aimed at
â€˜[grabbing] the asset upon the smash up of the Turkish Empireâ€™, Salisbury
â€˜[had] led England into a position of utter isolation and utter powerlessness
Cited in FJ, 29 Sep. 1896, 4.
â€˜An Irish eyewitness describes the butcheriesâ€™, FJ, 23 Sep. 1896, 3. This was a letter sent
by a merchant marine officer to his brother in Newry. The officer happened to be in
Constantinople when the pogrom against the Armenians began. This quotation offers
an interesting illustration of how Irishmen overseas could occasionally feel â€˜Englishâ€™
when confronting hostile cultures â€“ in this case militantly anti-Christian Ottomans.
A similar attitude inspired Irish Nationalist anti-Boer feeling in 1899â€“1902:
D. P. McCracken, The Irish pro-Boers, 1877â€“1902 (1989), 120.
L. a., FJ, â€˜The Armenian questionâ€™, 6 June 1895, 4.
L. a., â€˜Lost Armeniaâ€™, FJ, 17 Sep. 1895, 4; for the similarity with contemporary Liberal
criticisms of Salisbury cf. l.a., â€˜Lord Rosebery and his criticsâ€™, FJ, 21 Oct. 1896, 4.
L. a., â€˜Armeniaâ€™, FJ, 16 May 1895, 4.
Social radicalism and the â€˜popular frontâ€™ 325
for good by reason of mistrust which his policy has engendered. The
Armenian nation is lost, and lost through the policy that won its fatal
triumph at Berlin.â€™275 If Salisbury was responsible for past mistakes and
present impotence, Lord Rosebery, the Liberal leader, had grievously
sinned by â€˜combating the bold policy of bold intervention, single-handed
if need be, to stop the massacres which are an outrage on humanityâ€™.276 He
was now out of step with public opinion in both Ireland and Britain, and his
resignation from the leadership in reaction to Gladstoneâ€™s Liverpool speech
was â€˜his one honourable escapeâ€™ from an untenable position.277
At that stage the partisan nature of the agitation was explicit also in
Britain, where it was encouraged by James Bryce, Newman Hall and
Herbert Gladstone, as well as Harcourt, Labouchere and Morley.278
They presented the issue in terms increasingly critical of the government.
Having both publicly described the Sultan as â€˜the great Assassinâ€™ and
effectively called for the union of Crete with Greece, W. E. Gladstone
adopted a partisan line himself in the letter which he wrote in support of
Bonham Carter for the Petersfield (Hampshire) by-election at the end of
May, criticizing the government not only for their inactivity in Armenia,
but also for their support for the Ottomans in Crete.279 Although
Petersfield remained Tory, there followed a string of Liberal victories at
by-elections throughout the country.280 The partisan nature of the agita-
tion was then further intensified by the Colonial Secretaryâ€™s intervention.
As we have seen in the previous chapter, Chamberlain had always been
unable to sympathize with the â€˜sentimentalâ€™ politics of humanitarianism â€“
a failure further exacerbated by the Home Rule split. Not surprisingly, in
1897 he reacted to the Liberal adoption of the Armenian and Cretan
issues by denouncing the â€˜forward partyâ€™. He minimized the massacres in
Crete by comparing them with the violence which had been going on for
centuries on the Afghan frontier, and insisted that Britainâ€™s interests in
the Sudan should be regarded as the countryâ€™s paramount obligation.281
L. a., â€˜Lost Armeniaâ€™, FJ, 17 Sep. 1895, 4.
L. a., â€˜Lord Roseberyâ€™s apologiaâ€™, FJ, 10 Apr. 1895, 4.
L. a., â€˜Retirement of Lord Roseberyâ€™, FJ, 8 Oct. 1895, 4.
See reports in The Times: â€˜Greece and Creteâ€™, 20 Feb. 1897, 12, â€˜Sir W. Harcourt in
Stepneyâ€™, 5 Mar. 1897, 11; â€˜The Radicals and Greeceâ€™, 6 Mar. 1897, 12; â€˜The Cretan
questionâ€™, 13 Mar. 1897, 9; â€˜The Cretan question: Mr Gladstoneâ€™s letterâ€™, 19 Mar.
1897, 8; â€˜Mr Morley at Merthyr Tydvilâ€™, 8 May 1897, 16.
W. E. Gladstone, The Eastern crisis. A letter to the Duke of Westminster, KG (1897), 3,
13â€“15; The Times, 31 May 1897, 13.
See â€˜Election intelligenceâ€™, The Times, 30 Oct. 1897, 8 and 5 Nov. 1897, 7; â€˜Mr Asquith
at Rochdaleâ€™, ibid., 11 Nov. 1897, 9.
â€˜Mr Chamberlain in Birminghamâ€™, The Times, 1 Feb. 1897, 8; â€˜Mr Chamberlain in
Glasgowâ€™, ibid., 5 Nov. 1897, 7.
326 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
His remarks came across as even more callous than Disraeliâ€™s
response to the Bulgarian massacres of 1876. Chamberlainâ€™s â€˜neo-
Beaconsfieldismâ€™ was soon further compounded by the embarrassing
Jameson raid in South Africa and by a new war on the Indian North-
Western Frontier. As in 1879, humanitarian pressure groups protested
against â€˜[t]he ruthless destruction and burning of villages . . . thus causing
suffering upon women and children who can have done us nothing
wrongâ€™, amounting to â€˜a return to methods of barbarous vengeance,
and a discredit of professedly Christian Empireâ€™.282
As usual, part of this enthusiasm for humanitarian concerns in imperial
affairs was due to a perceived link between the cause of Home Rule and
that of any people â€˜struggling to be freeâ€™.283 That the latter proved to be
the guiding consideration in Nationalist responses to imperial and foreign
affairs was confirmed by Michael Davittâ€™s plea for the Ashanti,284 and his
denunciation both of â€˜the killing of helpless wounded foes [the Dervishes]
on the battlefield of Omdurmanâ€™ and of â€˜the conduct of Soudanese and
Egyptian soldiers under the orders of British officers in perpetrating
nameless outrages inside the city after the battle was wonâ€™.285 Press
reactions to the 1896 Jameson raid were similarly informed by
Gladstonian imperatives. Gladstone himself set the example by express-
ing his support for Kruger and â€˜surprise and disgustâ€™ at the â€˜outrage
committed on the Republicâ€™.286