1800‚Ä“1847‚Ä™, Proceedings of the British Academy, 100 (1999), 121‚Ä“43; R. V. Comerford,
The Fenians in context: Irish politics and society, 1848‚Ä“82 (1985), 143, 162, 173‚Ä“4.
Home Rule as a ‚Ä˜crisis of public conscience‚Ä™ 29
However, most other scholars agree that Parnell was hardly a ‚Ä˜liberal‚Ä™,
although few would go as far as Cruise O‚Ä™Brien in crediting contemporary
claims that he was a ‚Ä˜dictator‚Ä™ in the making.92 He was certainly out of
sympathy with Gladstonian sentimentalism and was a protectionist in
commercial matters.93 But this evidence only shows that he thought that
Irish interests and needs were not served by English policies and that his
first allegiance was to Ireland. More complex is the question whether or
not, because he was out of touch with the sensibility and commercial
policies of British Liberals, we should conclude that he was not a ‚Ä˜liberal‚Ä™
in the Irish context. In fact, if tested by this stringent criterion, most
nineteenth-century French, American, German and Italian liberals
would similarly fail to qualify. This leaves us with one of two options.
Either we could apply this doubly insular test consistently across the
board: then perhaps we should regard Depretis, Ferry, Naumann and
the rest of the nationalist, protectionist supporters of indigenous industry
as ‚Ä˜Parnellites‚Ä™, rather than liberals. Alternatively, we could abandon
‚Ä˜insularism‚Ä™ in all its varieties and accept that liberalism was a wider
European and American cultural and political phenomenon which
should not be defined by mere reference to the British experience. The
latter is the approach adopted here. I agree with Tom Claydon that
Parnell was ‚Ä˜an exponent of Atlantic principles‚Ä™, combining ‚Ä˜parliamen-
tary liberalism and civic humanism‚Ä™ with a preference for small govern-
ment.94 As Roy Foster has put it, ‚Ä˜[h]e represented a belief in the
possibility of a future pluralist Irish identity‚Ä™ which ‚Ä˜reflected the variety,
tolerance and depth of relationship to be found around his part of
In any case, the present book is concerned not with Parnell‚Ä™s ideas, but
with those of his followers in the context of their times. Here we encoun-
ter a different historiographical problem: most scholars of Parnellism
have emphasized the ‚Ä˜rejectionist‚Ä™ aspects of Irish nationalism and land
agitation ‚Ä“ that is, they have only been interested in what the Parnellites
were against. But, in so doing, they have neglected what they actually
stood for and how this compared with the aims and ideology of contem-
porary radical movements and groups in other parts of the British Isles.
Yet the political views of the Irish tenant farmers and their leaders during
Cruise O‚Ä™Brien, Parnell and his party, 354‚Ä“5.
F. S. L. Lyons, ‚Ä˜The political; ideas of Parnell‚Ä™, Historical Journal, 16, 4 (1973), 749‚Ä“75;
Jackson, Home Rule, 77‚Ä“8.
T. Claydon, ‚Ä˜The political thought of Charles Stewart Parnell‚Ä™, in D. G. Boyce and
A. O‚Ä™Day (eds.), Parnell in perspective (1991), 165‚Ä“6.
Foster, Paddy and Mr Punch, 60; Foster, Charles Stewart Parnell: the man and his family
30 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
such a formative period ‚Ä“ when the practice of democratic elections was
established ‚Ä“ are important if we want to understand how parliamentary
democracy could become so deeply rooted in Ireland in the twentieth
century. When the Nationalists‚Ä™ language and demands are studied in
their own terms and context, what is most striking is not their anti-English
rhetoric, but the ideological and cultural ground they shared with their
British counterparts. For example, both insisted on radical land reform
and civil rights under the ‚Ä˜constitution‚Ä™, both praised responsible local
government in contrast to central control, and both were suspicious of
militarized police forces and coercion laws. Moreover, both were inspired
by the Chartist belief that political reform must precede social improve-
ment.96 If these were the values of popular liberalism in Wales and the
Scottish Highlands, in Ireland they amounted to a distinctively liberal
nationalist definition of Irishness. Like the Chartists in the 1840s, the
National League criticized not the ‚Ä˜constitution‚Ä™ as such, but its ‚Ä˜corrup-
tion‚Ä™ and the way the law was allegedly ‚Ä˜manipulated‚Ä™ by the magistrates
to safeguard the interests of the landowners. Far from being ephemeral
products of propaganda from the days of the ‚Ä˜Union of Hearts‚Ä™, these
convictions survived the Parnell split of 1891 and Gladstone‚Ä™s retirement
in 1894. Nationalist commitment to the constitutional process and par-
liamentary democracy was not really endangered by the Gaelic cultural
revival.97 Renewed and reasserted from 1900‚Ä“6, constitutionalism and
parliamentary democracy slowly re-emerged from the violence of
1916‚Ä“23 as central features of Irish political and cultural life.98
Popular liberalism in Britain consolidated the switch in post-Chartist
democratic politics from quasi-revolutionary unrest for the extension of
the constitution and fiscal reform, to a Parliament-centred, constitutional
agitation for similar aims. The method, focus and parliamentary leader-
ship, more than the aims and the democratic ideology, were the crucial
changes. Ideologically, popular liberalism retained strong radical inclina-
tions, with an emphasis on land reform, ranging from idealized visions of
‚Ä˜peasant proprietary‚Ä™ to support for Henry George‚Ä™s ‚Ä˜single tax‚Ä™ pro-
posals.99 The development of Irish rural radicalism followed a similar
Comerford, Fenians in context, 40, 136.
Jackson, Home Rule, 101; Paseta, Before the revolution, 49, 75, 150.
P. Maume, ‚Ä˜From deference to citizenship‚Ä™, in ‚Ä˜Republicanism in theory and practice‚Ä™,
The Republic, no.2 (2001), 81‚Ä“91; Garvin, 1922; C. Townshend, ‚Ä˜The meaning of Irish
freedom: constitutionalism in the Free State‚Ä™, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society,
6th series, 8 (1998), 45‚Ä“70.
Revd W. Tuckwell, Reminiscences of a radical parson (1905), 128‚Ä“57. Cf. T. McBride,
‚Ä˜John Ferguson, Michael Davitt and Henry George: land for the people‚Ä™, Irish Studies
Review, 14, 4 (2006), 421‚Ä“30.
Home Rule as a ‚Ä˜crisis of public conscience‚Ä™ 31
pattern, though with a different chronology: there was a movement away
from Gladstonianism in 1874‚Ä“81 and then, from 1882‚Ä“3, a shift back to
parliamentary politics.100 In the 1880s the turning point came in the wake
of Gladstone‚Ä™s Land Acts (1881, 1882 and the 1883 Labourers‚Ä™ Act)
which satisfied basic demands, while the constitutional strategy offered
hopeful prospects of further reform. Hitherto, historians have been pre-
pared to admit that some Nationalist leaders shared with their British
allies both ‚Ä˜civic humanism‚Ä™ and ‚Ä˜parliamentary liberalism‚Ä™.101 We know
that many Home Rulers came from a Liberal background, to the extent
that in the late 1870s it was felt that the epithet was a new word for
Irish Liberal.102 They revered W. E. H. Lecky‚Ä™s version of the Irish past,
including ‚Ä˜Grattan‚Ä™s Parliament as a model of . . . self-government, con-
comitant with economic prosperity [and] increasing religious tolerance‚Ä™.103
However, as far as the rank and file were concerned, scholarly accounts
have emphasized either the pragmatism of the wirepullers and efficiency
of the party machine or the resilience of the ‚Ä˜physical force‚Ä™ tradition.104
On the whole, whereas the influence of the Irish Republican Brotherhood
(IRB) and the anti-English culture nurtured by William O‚Ä™Brien‚Ä™s United
Ireland are widely recognized, the movement‚Ä™s more liberal aspects have
been regarded either as a minority view ‚Ä“ surviving in the ‚Ä˜blurred edges‚Ä™
between upper-class constitutionalism and Fenian militancy ‚Ä“ or as one
of the many facets of an intrinsically ambiguous movement.105
That the old account is not wholly satisfactory has been indicated by
successive waves of ‚Ä˜revisionism‚Ä™ and ‚Ä˜post-revisionism‚Ä™. On the one hand
we know from Comerford that membership of the IRB was often of little
more than social significance ‚Ä“ a way of expressing ‚Ä˜individual identifica-
tion with the national cause‚Ä™.106 On the other hand, it has long been
Loughlin, Gladstone, Home Rule and the Ulster question, 9.
Claydon, ‚Ä˜The political thought of Charles Stewart Parnell‚Ä™, 162‚Ä“8; F. S. L. Lyons,
John Dillon: a biography (1968), 322; L. W. Brady, T. P. O‚Ä™Connor and the Liverpool
Irish (1983), 54ff.
E. O‚Ä™Toole (1860‚Ä“1922), Whilst for your life, that‚Ä™s treason. Recollections of a long life
R. V. Comerford, ‚Ä˜The land war and the politics of distress, 1877‚Ä“82‚Ä™, in W. E. Vaughan
(ed.), A new history of Ireland, vol. VI (1996), 26; Loughlin, Gladstone, Home Rule and the
Ulster question, 9. ‚Ä˜Grattan‚Ä™s Parliament‚Ä™ was the old Irish Parliament in its supposed
golden age, between 1782‚Ä“1800, when it reached an unprecedented level of autonomy
from British control. There is a certain irony in the fact that Lecky was a well-known
Unionist: D. McCartney, W. E. H. Lecky: historian and politician, 1838‚Ä“1903 (1994).
Cruise O‚Ä™Brien, Parnell and party; Maume, Long Gestation.
M. Hurst, ‚Ä˜Parnell in the spectrum of nationalisms‚Ä™, in Boyce and O‚Ä™Day, Parnell in
perspective, 81; Loughlin, Gladstone, Home Rule and the Ulster Question, 20; Comerford,
‚Ä˜The land war and the politics of distress‚Ä™, 28‚Ä“31, 46‚Ä“8; Maume, Long Gestation, 4, 11.
Comerford, Ireland, 40. See also his Fenians in context.
32 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
accepted by scholars that the Irish in Britain were ‚Ä˜contaminated by
Liberalism‚Ä™, and even that Gladstone ‚Ä˜replaced Parnell as the main object
of Irish loyalty and affection‚Ä™ after 1891.107 While Theo Hoppen has
demonstrated the resilience of ‚Ä˜local‚Ä™, as opposed to ‚Ä˜national‚Ä™, identities
and the ‚Ä˜normalcy‚Ä™ of electoral politics before 1885,108 others have
stressed the importance of reconsidering the history of democracy in
Ireland in a comparative perspective. In particular, in his study on the
‚Ä˜birth‚Ä™ of Irish democracy, Tom Garvin has insisted on the ideological
common ground between the Irish republican tradition and contem-
porary continental European, British and American liberal-democratic
attitudes to citizenship, society and the state.109
The pre-1914 National party was in most respects ideologically closer
to the liberal-democratic ideals in which Garvin is interested than any of
the post-1922 Free State parties. The latter were shaped by the anti-
individualist, majoritarian values of 1919‚Ä“21 and tended to underplay
what Garvin calls the ‚Ä˜positive connotations‚Ä™ of the European and
American tradition ‚Ä“ including the right to free speech and open govern-
ment, and the positive value of individualism and minorities.110 By
contrast, late Victorian Nationalism went out of its way to assert its
pluralist credentials and respect for minorities: indeed this was, according
to the ageing John Dillon, the main difference between ‚Ä˜our independent
lay party‚Ä™ ‚Ä“ as he called it ‚Ä“ and what he regarded as the ‚Ä˜clericalist‚Ä™ Sinn
Fein.111 The party of Parnell, Redmond and Dillon stood on an essen-
tially secular platform, combined with constitutionalism and a libertarian
critique of government coercion. It tried to harness revolutionary forces
J. Denvir, The Irish in Britain from the earliest times to the fall and death of Parnell (1892),
381; S. Fielding, ‚Ä˜Irish politics in Manchester, 1890‚Ä“1914‚Ä™, International Review of Social
History, 23 (1988), 271‚Ä“7; R. B. McCready, ‚Ä˜Irish Catholicism and nationalism in
Scotland: the Dundee experience, 1865‚Ä“1922‚Ä™, Irish Studies Review, 6, 3 (1998), 245‚Ä“52.
K. T. Hoppen, Elections, politics and society in Ireland 1832‚Ä“1885 (1984).
Garvin, 1922, 13‚Ä“7, 22‚Ä“5, 28‚Ä“9, 64‚Ä“5, 194, 200. See also T. J. White, ‚Ä˜Nationalism vs.
liberalism in the Irish context: from a post-colonial past to a post-modern future‚Ä™,
Eire‚Ä“Ireland, 37, 3‚Ä“4 (2002), 25‚Ä“38 and J. M. Regan, The Irish counter-revolution
1921‚Ä“1936: treatyite politics and the settlement of independent Ireland (2001), 68‚Ä“70.
Garvin, 1922, 16, 32‚Ä“3; for a rather theoretical discussion of these concepts see White,
‚Ä˜Nationalism vs. liberalism‚Ä™.
As he wrote in a memorandum on Christmas Eve 1918: ‚Ä˜The fury of a large section of
the priests, who are most dishonestly using S.[inn] F.[ein] to carry out a purpose they
have long nursed ‚Ä“ the destruction of our independent lay party and the recovery of their
own [direct?] power over Irish politics, which the Parnellite movement had to a large
extent destroyed.‚Ä™ Cited in Lyons, Dillon, 455. From the mid-1890s leading Nationalists
had complained about ‚Ä˜the dead weight against which we have to struggle in the large
body of clerics who support Healy‚Ä™ ‚Ä“ the dissident Nationalist leader who had adopted
sectarian politics after Gladstone‚Ä™s retirement (TS, Confidential, E. Blake to J. Dillon,
Toronto, 7 Oct. 1895, in Blake Letters, P 4681, NLI).
Home Rule as a ‚Ä˜crisis of public conscience‚Ä™ 33
to the chariot of parliamentary politics ‚Ä“ which is what John Bright and
other Radicals had done in Britain in the aftermath of the last national
Chartist demonstration in 1848. The affinities between Nationalism and
Chartism are particularly strong in the case of Michael Davitt even in the
more radical phase of his career. For example, in 1878 ‚Ä˜[t]he right of the
Irish people to carry arms‚Ä™ was one of the planks of his creed, together
with two other traditional republican demands, namely self-government
and land reform with a view to establishing ‚Ä˜a system of small proprietor-
ship similar to what at present obtains in France, Belgium, and
Prussia‚Ä™.112 Each of these three demands had a Chartist pedigree and
had been resurrected and ‚Ä˜domesticated‚Ä™ by mid-Victorian Liberals,
especially those involved in the volunteer movement.113 By the same
token, to Irish nationalists all over the world, the story of Davitt‚Ä™s patient
suffering in British prisons, as narrated by contemporary biographies,114
must have read like Silvio Pellico‚Ä™s Le mie prigioni (1832) to an earlier
generation of British Liberals.
Thus, what Loughlin has called ‚Ä˜the state of consciousness that the
Irish National party‚Ä™s rhetoric was designed to inculcate‚Ä™115 was politic-
ally and functionally, as well as constitutionally, akin to what popular
liberalism stood for in Britain. They both shared in a ‚Ä˜neo-roman‚Ä™ polit-
ical culture interspersed with different religious and national traditions
and enriched by contributions from the wider Anglophone world over-
seas. In particular American republicanism was influential among Irish
nationalists, but was also widely echoed by British radicals, especially
before 1877.116 Canadian federalism inspired the debate on ‚Ä˜Home Rule
All Round‚Ä™ together with the idea that Irish Nationalism was not incon-
sistent with the preservation of a purified Union ‚Ä“ a view epitomized
by Edward Blake, the former leader of the Canadian Liberal party and
ex-Premier of Ontario, who became a leading Irish Nationalist MP at
Westminster in the 1890s.117
M. Davitt, ‚Ä˜The future policy of Irish Nationalists‚Ä™, speech delivered in the Mechanics
Hall, Boston, 8 Dec. 1878, cited in D. B. Cashman, Life of Michael Davitt with a History
of the Rise and Development of the Irish National League (1881), 90.
Biagini, ‚Ä˜Neo-Roman liberalism‚Ä™. 114 E.g. Cashman, Life of Michael Davitt, 29‚Ä“66.
Loughlin, Gladstone, Home Rule and the Ulster question, 22.
E.g. the cult of Abraham Lincoln in 1863‚Ä“5 and the even more widespread ideal of the
‚Ä˜independent yeoman‚Ä™ celebrated by both Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson:
Biagini, Liberty, 69‚Ä“79. As late as 1890 Lloyd George publicly referred to the USA as
‚Ä˜the great Republic of the West‚Ä™ (cited in J. H. Edwards, David Lloyd George, 2 vols.
(1929), vol. I, 127).
M. B. Banks Edward Blake, Irish Nationalist: a Canadian statesman in Irish politics,
34 British Democracy and Irish Nationalism
In Ireland popular constitutionalism was ‚Ä˜liberal‚Ä™ in the sense in which
this expression has been applied to the description of comparable move-
ments in other agrarian countries in the nineteenth century. Liberalism ‚Ä“
especially in its popular forms ‚Ä“ encompassed both a method and a