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Against Home Rule: the case for the Union (Author: Arthur J. Balfour (et al.))


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A Note on Home Rule

By the Right Hon. A. J. Balfour, M.P.

The greater part of the present volume is devoted to showing why this country should not adopt Home Rule; but it is perhaps worth while for the ordinary British citizen to ask himself a preliminary question, namely, why he should be pressed even to consider it. That the establishment of an Irish Parliament must involve doubtful and far-reaching consequences is denied by no one. What then is the prima facie case which has induced many Englishmen and Scotchmen to think that it ought to be seriously debated? If we could erase the past and approach the problem of framing representative institutions in their most practicable shape for the inhabitants of the United Kingdom, who would think it wise to crowd into these small Islands two, or, as some would have it, three, four, or five separate Parliaments, with their separate elections, their separate sets of ministers and Offices, their separate party systems, their divergent policies? Distances are, under modern conditions, so small, our population is so compact, the interests of its component parts are so intimately fused together, that any device at all resembling Home Rule would seem at the best cumbersome, costly, and ineffective; at the worst, perilous to the rights of minorities, the peace of the country, and the unity of the Kingdom. If, then, these common-sense considerations are thrust on one side by so many well-meaning persons, it must surely be because they think that for the destruction of our existing system there is to be found a compelling justification in the history of the past.


I am well aware that many of the persons of whom I am thinking profess to base their approval of Home Rule on purely administrative grounds. The Parliament of the United Kingdom, they say, is overweighted; it has more to do than it can manage; we must diminish its excessive burdens; and we can only do so by throwing them in part upon other and subordinate assemblies. But this, if it be a reason at all, is certainly a most insufficient one. Would any human being, anxious merely to give relief to the House of Commons, adopt so illogical a scheme as one which involves a provincial Parliament in Ireland, and no provincial Parliaments anywhere else; which puts Ireland under two Parliaments, and left the rest of the country under one; which, if Irishmen are to be admitted to the Imperial Parliament, would give Ireland privileges and powers denied to England and Scotland, and, if they are to be excluded from the Imperial Parliament, would deprive Ireland of rights which surely she ought to possess?

Again, if the administrative argument was really more than an ornament of debate, would any one select Ireland as the administrative district in which to make trial of the new system? Would any one, in his desire to relieve the Imperial Parliament of some of its functions, select as an area of self-government a region where one part is divided against another by passions, and, if you will, by prejudices, more violent, and more deeply-rooted than those which afflict any other fraction of the United Kingdom, choose that other fraction where, and how, you will?

I take it, then, as certain that in the mind of the ordinary British Home Ruler the justification for Home Rule is not administrative but historical. He pictures Ireland before the English invasion as an organised and independent State, happy in the possession of a native polity which Englishmen have ruthlessly destroyed, now suffering under laws and institutions forced upon her by the conquerors, suitable it may be to men of Anglo-Saxon descent, but utterly alien to the genius and temper of a Celtic population. To him,


therefore, Home Rule presents itself as an act of National restitution.

Personally, I believe this to be a complete misreading of history. It is not denied—at least I do not deny—that both the English and British Governments, in their dealings with Ireland have done many things that were stupid, and some things that were abominable. But among their follies or their crimes is not to be counted the destruction of any such State as I have described; for no such State existed. They did not uproot one type of civilisation in order to plant another. The Ireland with which England had to deal had not acquired a national organisation, and when controversialists talk of restoring this or that institution to Ireland, the only institutions that can possibly be restored are in their origin importations from England.

This does not, of course, mean that the English were a superior race dealing with an inferior one. Indeed, there is, in my view, no sharp division of race at all. In the veins of the inhabitants of these Islands runs more than one strain of blood. The English are not simply Teutonic—still less are the Irish Celtic. We must conceive the pre-historic inhabitants both of Britain and of Ireland as subject to repeated waves of invasion from the wandering peoples of the Continent. The Celt preceded the Teuton; and in certain regions his language still survives. The Teuton followed him in (as I suppose) far greater numbers, and his language has become that of a large fraction of the civilised world. But in no part of the United Kingdom is the Teutonic strain free from either the Celtic or pre-Celtic strain; nor do I believe that the Celtic strain has anywhere a predominance such as that which, speaking very roughly, the Teutonic strain possesses in the East of these Islands, or the pre-Celtic strain in the West.

There is, therefore, no race frontier to be considered, still less is there any question of inferiority or superiority. The Irish difficulty, historically considered, arises in the main from two circumstances. The first of these, to which


I have just referred, is that when England began to intervene in the welter of Irish inter-tribal warfare, she was already an organised State, slowly working its way through feudal monarchy to constitutional freedom. The second is that while the religious revolution of the sixteenth century profoundly and permanently affected the larger Island, it left the smaller Island untouched. The result of the first of these has been that Irish institutions, Irish laws, Irish forms of local government, and Irish forms of parliamentary government are necessarily of the English type. The result of the second has been that while no sharp divisions of race exist, divisions of religion have too often taken their place; that in the constitutional struggles of the seventeenth century Ireland was not the partner but the victim of English factions; and that civil war in its most brutal form, with the confiscations and penal laws which followed in its train, have fed, have indeed created, the bitter fiction that Ireland was once a nation whose national life has been destroyed by its more powerful neighbour.

To all this it will perhaps be replied that even if the general accuracy of the foregoing statement be admitted (and nothing about Ireland ever is admitted), it is quite irrelevant to the question of Home Rule; because what is of importance to practical statesmanship is not what did actually happen in the past, but what those who live in the present suppose to have happened. If, therefore, to the imagination of contemporary Irishmen, Ireland appears a second Poland, statesmen must act as if the dream were fact.

In such a contention there is some element of truth, But it must be observed in the first place that dreams, however vivid, are not eternal; and, in the second place, that while this particular dream endures it supplies a practical argument against Home Rule, the full force of which is commonly under-rated. For what are the main constitutional dangers of creating rival Parliaments in the same State? They are—friction, collision of jurisdiction, and, in the end, national disintegration. Of these, friction


is scarcely to be avoided. I doubt whether it has been wholly avoided in any State where the system, either of co-equal or of subordinate Parliaments, has been thoroughly tried. It certainly was not avoided in the days past when Ireland had a Parliament of its own. It is incredible that it should be avoided in the future, however elaborate be the safeguards which the draughtsman's ingenuity can devise. But friction, in any case inevitable, becomes a peril to every community where the rival assemblies can appeal to nationalist sentiment. The sore gets poisoned. What under happier conditions might be no more than a passing storm of rhetoric, forgotten as soon as ended, will gather strength with time. The appetite for self-assertion, inherent in every assembly, and not likely to be absent from one composed of orators so brilliantly gifted as the Irish, will take the menacing form of an international quarrel. The appeal will no longer be to precedents and statutes, but to patriotism and nationality, and the quarrel of two Parliaments will become the quarrel of two peoples. What will it avail, when that time comes, that in 1912 the Irish leaders declared themselves content with a subordinate legislature? It is their earlier speeches of a very different tenour that will be remembered; and it will be asked, with a logic that may well seem irresistible, by what right Irish ‘nationality’ was ever abandoned by Irish representatives.

On these dangers I do not in this brief note propose to dwell, though it seems to me insane either to ignore them or to belittle them. The point on which I desire to insist is that they arise not from the establishment of a subordinate Parliament alone, nor from the existence of a ‘nationalist’ sentiment alone, but from the action and reaction of the sentiment upon the institution, and of the institution upon the sentiment.

Let me conclude by asking whether Irish history does not support to the full these gloomy prognostications. The Parliament that came to an end at the Union was a Parliament utterly antagonistic to anything that now goes by the name of Irish Nationalism. In every sphere, except


the economic sphere, it represented the forces, political and religious, which the Irish Nationalist now regards as English and alien, and against which, for many years, he has been waging bitter warfare. Yet this Parliament, representing only a small minority of the inhabitants of Ireland, found its position of subordination intolerable. It chose a moment of national disaster to assert complete equality, and so used its powers that at last the Union became inevitable. It is surely no remedy for the ancient wrongs of Ireland—real, alas! though they were—that we should compel her again to tread the weary round of constitutional experiment, and that, in the name of Irish Nationalism, we should again make her the victim of an outworn English scheme, which has been tried, which has failed, which has been discarded, and which, in my judgment, ought never to be revived.


Historical Retrospect

By J.R. Fisher

Author of The End of the Irish Parliament Editor of Northern Whig)

When Pitt commended his proposals for the Union to ‘the dispassionate and sober judgment of the Parliament of Ireland,’ he argued that such a measure was at once ‘transcendently important’ to the Empire, and ‘eminently useful’ to the true interests of Ireland. Lord Clare, as an Irishman, naturally reversed the order, but his compelling points were the same:—To Ireland the Union was a ‘vital interest,’ which at the same time ‘intimately affected the strength and prosperity of the British Empire.’ From that day to this the two fundamental arguments for the Union of Great Britain and Ireland have remained unchanged, and they apply with ever-growing force to the existing situation at home and abroad. But the argument from history has, perhaps, been a little neglected of late, and calls for at least a passing notice.

Popular oratory will have it that England has always been keen and aggressive in regard to the incorporation of Ireland within the Empire, but as a matter of fact, the very opposite has been the case. From the time of Pope Adrian's Bull, Laudabiliter, in 1154, which granted to Henry II. the Lordship of Ireland, but which Henry left unemployed for seventeen years, to that of the Irish petition for a legislative Union in 1703, which remained unanswered for nearly a century, vacillation and hesitation rather than eagerness for aggression have been the characteristic marks of English policy in Ireland. Far-sighted statesmen could point out the benefits to Ireland from such a connection,


but as a rule it was the presence of actual foreign danger that forced the British Parliament to act. For four centuries the Lordship of the English Kings over Ireland was largely nominal. It was only when the religious quarrels of the sixteenth century became acute that the Tudors already alarmed at the action of the Irish Parliament in recognising and crowning a pretender in Dublin Castle found themselves compelled to assert direct Kingship.

From that time till the legislative Union every enemy of England could safely count on finding a foothold and active friend, in Ireland. It is much too late in the day to indulge in any recriminations on this score. The issues were the most tremendous that have divided Europe; each side was passionately convinced of the rightness and justice of its cause. There were, in Pitt's words relating to a later day, ‘dreadful and inexcusable cruelties’ on the one side, and ‘lamentable severities’ upon the other, just as there were all over Europe. But in the case of Ireland every evil was exaggerated and every danger intensified by the system of dualism which encouraged resistance from within and invited interference from without. For England and English liberty it was more than once a question of existence or extinction, and the knowledge of the constant danger from the immediate west did not tend to sweeten the situation.

In Elizabeth's time the menace was from Spain; Spanish forces twice succeeded in effecting a landing on the Irish coast, and were welcomed by the inhabitants. Spain was then the most powerful enemy of England and of civil and religious liberty all the world over; Elizabeth was declared by the Pope to have forfeited the crown of England, and if the Armada had been successful at sea, the Spanish army in England would have found enthusiastic supporters in Ireland. Later on it was in Ireland, and by the aid of subsidies from an Irish Parliament, that Strafford raised 10,000 men to invade Scotland and England in support of Charles I. against his Parliament, and, incidentally, to drive the Scottish settlers out of Ulster. As the Articles of Impeachment put it, his object in raising the Irish army


was ‘for the ruin and destruction of England and of his Majesty's subjects, and altering and subverting the fundamental laws and established Government of this Kingdom.’ Strafford fell, but the insurrection and massacre of 1641 were the natural result of his intrigues with the Irish Parliament and the Irish chiefs. It was under the impression of this manifest danger that Cromwell—a century and a half before his time—abolished the Dublin Parliament and summoned Irish representatives to the first United Parliament at Westminster.

As the power of Spain declined, France came to be the chief menace to England and to the peace of Europe. Again Ireland instinctively allied herself with the enemy. Tyrconnel now played the part of Strafford, and with the aid of French troops and French subsidies, and a sympathetic Irish Parliament, endeavoured to destroy the Ulster Plantation, and make Ireland a jumping-off place for the invasion of England. The Irish Parliament, in the meantime, did its part by confiscating the estates of the settlers, driving out the Protestant clergy, and outlawing English sympathisers by name in the hugest Bill of Attainder which the world has seen.’’

J. R.Green, Short History,. chap. ix. sec. 8.

It was the successful defence of Derry and Enniskillen by the Scotch and English colonists that saved Ireland and gave King William and his troops the foothold that enabled them to save England, too, in the Irish campaign of the following year.

Not the least remarkable instance of the use to which separate Parliaments within the Kingdom could be put for the ruin of England occurred during the activity of James the Second's son, the so-called ‘Old Pretender.’ In 1723 his chief adviser, the Earl of Mar, presented to the Regent of France a memorial setting out in detail a project for betraying Britain into the power of France by dismembering the British Parliament.1 The Irish Parliament, in close alliance with a restored Scottish Parliament, was to be used to curb the power of England. ‘The people of Ireland and


Scotland,’ according to Mar, ‘are of the same blood and possess similar interests,’ and they should thus always be allied against England and oppose their ‘united strength’—backed, of course, by that of France—to any undue growth of the English power. The scheme came to nothing, but if the Pretender had possessed a little more energy and capacity; if the French Court had been in earnest, and if Ireland and Scotland had each possessed a separate Parliament, ‘with an executive responsible to it,’ and with the control of a national militia, the story of 1745 might have ended differently.

It is necessary that these facts should be kept in mind when complaint is made of the oppressive and demoralising Irish Penal Code. That Code no one defends now, although it was lauded at the time by Swift as a bulwark of the Church against the Catholics on the one hand, and the Presbyterians on the other. It was the product of a cruel and bigoted age, and at its worst it was less severe than similar laws prevailing against Protestants in those parts of the Continent where the Roman Church held sway.2 Spain and France were at that time vastly more powerful, populous, and wealthy countries than England: England was never free from the dread of foreign invasion, and to the would-be invader Ireland always held a guiding light and an open door.

Finally, it must also be remembered that at a time when the chances seemed fairly even, as between William and England on the one hand, and James and France on the other, the Prince of Orange, accustomed to the German way of settling such differences, had made formal offer to Tyrconnel of a working compromise—the free exercise of their religion to the Irish Catholics: half the Churches of the Kingdom: half the employments, civil and military, if they pleased, and even the moiety of their ancient properties. ‘These proposals,’ says the Chevalier Wogan, Tyrconnel's


nephew and confidant, who is our informant, ‘though they were to have had an English Act of Parliament for their sanction, were refused with universal contempt.’ In other words, the party which with the assistance of France still hoped to obtain all, refused to be content with half. It is true that Wogan, in the letter from which we have quoted,3 after stating that the exiles, ‘in the midst of their hard usage abroad, could not be brought to repent of their obstinacy,’ justifies their refusal by the way in which the Articles of Limerick were afterwards disregarded by the Irish Parliament. But this is evidently an argument of retrospective invention, and it may fairly be argued that the position would have been very different if peace on equal terms had been made on the direct authority of the King before Aughrim rather than by his deputies after Limerick.

The Eighteenth Century

And if the separatist theory has involved, as we have seen, such external dangers to the Empire, the case for the old Irish Parliament from the point of the ‘vital interests ’ of Ireland itself is even weaker. By it the bulk of the Irish people were treated for a century in a fashion described by an Irish Chief Secretary as ‘ingrafting absurdity on the wisdom of England and tyranny on the religion that professes humanity.’ It was conspicuous for its corruption even in a corrupt age, and, as was inevitable, it involved Ireland in constant conflicts with England, conflicts that were vexatious and injurious to both countries. Swift, who, amongst those who have not read his works, passes for an Irish patriot, is at his savagest when inveighing against this sham Parliament.4

  1. Its members are, he says—
    ... three hundred brutes
    All involved in wild disputes,
    Roaring till their lungs are spent
    Privilege of Parliament!


And if only the Devil were some day to come ‘with poker fiery red,’ and—

  1. When the den of thieves is full,
    Quite destroy the harpies' nest,
    How might then our Isle be blest!

Capable observers, from Swift to Arthur Young, bear continuous testimony to the systematic and habitual corruption of the Irish Parliament. Offices were multiplied and were distributed among clamorous applicants on the ground of family or personal influence, or political support—never by any chance on the ground of merit or capacity. Public money was squandered for private purposes. Sir George Macartney, himself an Irishman and a Member of Parliament, in his Account of Ireland, speaking of the year 1745, says— The House of Commons now began to appropriate a considerable part of the additional duties to their own use. This was done under pretence of encouraging public works such as inland navigation, collieries, and manufactories of different kinds; but the truth is that most of these public works were private jobs carried on under the direction and for the advantage of some considerable gentlemen in the House of Commons.’’

Life of Macartney. , vol. ii., p. 136.

Arthur Young, whose careful and impartial study of the state of affairs in Ireland under the Dublin Parliament has become a classic, speaks of the same class of transaction. The members of the House of Commons at the conclusion of the sessions met for the purpose of voting the uses to which this money should be applied: the greater part of it was amongst themselves, their friends or dependents, and though some work of apparent use to the public was always the plea, yet under the sanction there were a great number of very scandalous jobs.’’

Tour in Ireland,. vol. ii., p. 123 ff.

Young admits that some useful public work was done, but that most of the money was misappropriated was


matter of common report. After a reference to the construction of a certain canal he adds— Some gentlemen I have talked with on this subject have replied, 'It is a job: 'twas meant as a job: you are not to consider it as a canal of trade, but as a canal for public money!' . . .Sorry I am to say that a history of public works in Ireland would be a history of jobs.’’

Tour in Ireland,. vol. ii., p. 123 ff.

Money was voted, he says elsewhere, for— Collieries where there is no coal, for bridges where there are no rivers, navigable cuts where there is no water, harbours where there are no ships, and churches where there are no congregations.’’

Tour in Ireland,. vol. ii., p. 123 ff.

And when the Union was finally on its way, Hamilton Rowan, one of the founders of the United Irishmen, then in exile in America, wrote home to his father: I congratulate you on the report which spreads here that a Union is intended. In that measure I see the downfall of one of the most corrupt assemblies, I believe, that ever existed.’’

Hamilton Rowan's Autobiography. , p. 340

It is little wonder that men of good will in Ireland prayed to be delivered from such a Parliament. Molyneux, the first of the Irish Parliamentary patriots, whose book, The Case of Ireland's being Governed by Laws made in England Stated, was burnt by the common hangman, pleaded indeed for a reformed and independent Parliament, but only because fair representation in the English Parliament was at the time ‘a happiness they could hardly hope for.’ And a few years later the Irish House, in congratulating Queen Anne on the Union of England and Scotland, added, ‘May God put it into your royal heart to add greater strength and lustre to your Crown by a yet more comprehensive Union.’

The English Parliament, through sheer lethargy and carelessness, missed at this time an opportunity which would have peacefully launched Ireland on her career on an equality with Scotland and England, and must have profoundly modified the relations of the two countries. Immediate prosperity, in the case of a land wasted by a century


of strife and bloodshed, was not indeed to be hoped for any more than in the case of Scotland, which had still two armed rebellions, and much bickering and jealousy in store before settling down to peaceful development. But if Ireland had been granted her petitions for Union in 1703 and 1707, and had thus secured equal laws and equal trading privileges, she would at any rate have emerged from her period of trial and discord not later than Scotland, and would have anticipated the economic and social advantages predicted by Adam Smith, when he says— By a union with Great Britain, Ireland would gain, besides the freedom of trade, other advantages much more important, and which would much more than compensate any increase of taxes that might accompany that union. By the union with England, the middling and inferior ranks of people in Scotland gained a complete deliverance from the power of an aristocracy which had always before oppressed them. By a union with Great Britain, the greater part of the people of all ranks in Ireland would gain an equally complete deliverance from a much more oppressive aristocracy, an aristocracy not founded, like that of Scotland, in the natural and respectable distinctions of birth and fortune, but in the most odious of all distinctions, those of religious and political prejudices. ... Without a union with Great Britain, the inhabitants of Ireland are not likely, for many ages, to consider themselves as one people.’’

Wealth of Nations. , Book V., Chap. III

Pitt, who was proud to proclaim himself the pupil of Adam Smith in politics and in economics, found himself, a quarter of a century after these words were written, in a position to carry out, in face of great difficulties and dangers at home and abroad, the beneficent reform advocated by his great master— a reform which, as we have seen, could have been carried a century earlier without any difficulty whatever. But the century that had been wasted involved many concurrent miseries and misfortunes: social and economic stagnation, an intensification of religious and racial bitterness, conspiracy, and invasion; savage outbreaks savagely repressed. When the time comes to measure up the rights and wrongs of those dark days, the judgment on


England will assuredly be that her fault was not the carrying of the Union, but the delaying of that great measure of reform and emancipation until it was almost too late.

The story of the Union has been told and retold in the utmost detail throughout the century. The present writer has attempted quite recently to summarise it, 5 and there is little to add. The charge that it was carried by corruption is simply another way of saying that it had, constitutionally, to be passed through the Dublin Parliament, that body which, from the days of Swift's invective to those of its final condemnation, lived and moved and had its being solely in and by corruption. As Lord Castlereagh, who had charge of the Bill in the Irish House of Commons, put it, the Government was forced to recognise the situation, and its task was ‘to buy out and secure to the Crown forever the fee simple of Irish corruption, which has so long enfeebled the power of Government and endangered the connection.’

The Union

The Irish Parliament had run its course, and had involved the unhappy country in chaos, bankruptcy, revolution, and bloodshed. Lord Clare—a late and reluctant convert to the policy of the Union—said in the Irish House of Lords (Feb. 10, 1800)— We have not three years of redemption from bankruptcy or intolerable taxation, nor one hour's security against the renewal of exterminating civil war. Session after session have you been compelled to enact laws of unexampled rigour and novelty to repress the horrible excesses of the mass of your people: and the fury of murder and pillage and desolation have so outrun all legislative exertions that you have been at length driven to the hard necessity of breaking down the pale of municipal law, and putting your country under the ban of military government—and in every little circle of dignity and independence we hear whispers of discontent at the temperate discretion with which it is administered. ... Look to your civil and religious dissensions. Look to the fury of political faction and the torrents of human blood that stain the face of your


country, and of what materials is that man composed who will not listen with patience and good will to any proposition that can be made to him for composing the distractions and healing the wounds and alleviating the miseries of this devoted nation?’’

Lord Clare's words—unanswered and unanswerable then and now—constitute a sufficient comment on the foolish fable of later invention, that Ireland was a land of peace and harmony, of orderly government and abounding prosperity, when a wicked English minister came and ‘stole away the Parliament House’—since which all has been decay and desolation. The halcyon period is generally made to coincide with that of ‘Grattan's Parliament’—of the semi-independent and quite unworkable Constitution of 1782, which had been extorted from England's weakness when Ireland was denuded of regular troops, and at the mercy of a Volunteer National Guard, when Cornwallis had just surrendered at Yorktown, and Spain and France were once more leagued with half Europe for the destruction of the British Empire.

It is quite true that the latter part of the eighteenth century was, on the whole, a time of considerable prosperity to certain classes in Ireland—a prosperity varied by periods of acute depression and distress. But that prosperity, such as it was, neither began with Grattan's Parliament nor ended with it—had, indeed, no more connection with the Irish Parliament in any of its phases than had the Goodwin Sands with Tenterden steeple. With the exception of the respite between the Treaty of Versailles and the outbreak of the French Revolution, England was almost constantly at war, or feverishly preparing for war. Simultaneously came the unprecedented increase of urban industry, following on the invention of the steam-engine and spinning machinery. The result was an enormous and growing demand for corn, beef, and pork, sailcloth, stores of all kinds for our armies and fleets, a demand which England, owing to the growth of her town population and the consequent growth of the home demand, was unable adequately to meet.


Ireland reaped the benefit. As a largely agricultural country, she was as yet little influenced by the discoveries of Watt, of Hargreaves, of Arkwright, or of Crompton. But her long-rested soil could produce in apparently unlimited quantities those very products of which the British forces stood most in need. The fleets were victualled and fitted out at Cork, and 'they carried thence a constant stream of supplies of all sorts for our armies in the field. Indeed, so keen was the demand that it was soon discovered that not only our own troops, but those of the enemy, were receiving Irish supplies, and smugglers on the south and west coasts reaped a rich harvest.

The result was obvious. Cattle graziers and middlemen made enormous profits, rents were doubled and trebled. Dublin, Cork, Waterford, Limerick and Belfast flourished exceedingly on war prices and war profits. But there is no evidence that the mass of the people in their degraded and debased condition shared to any extent in this prosperity. It was at this very period that Arthur O'Connor spoke of them as ‘the worst clad, the worst led, the worst housed people in Europe.’ Whiteboyism, outrage and lawlessness spread over the face of the country, and, as Lord Clare reminded Parliament,‘session after session have you been compelled to enact laws of unexampled rigour and novelty to repress the horrible excesses of the mass of your people.’ It has been made a charge against the Union that during some disturbed periods of the nineteenth century the United Parliament had to pass ‘Coercion’ Acts at the rate of nearly one every session. The complainants should look nearer home and they would find from the records of the Irish Legislature that during the ‘halcyon’ days of ‘Grattan's Parliament’—the eighteen years between 1782 and the Union— no less than fifty-four Coercion Acts were passed, some of them of a thoroughness and ferocity quite unknown in later legislation. The close of the nineteenth century and the opening of the twentieth were, in reality, in spite of a certain amount of agrarian crime, organised and subsidised from abroad, a period of much greater peace and


more widespread prosperity than the bloodstained years that marked the close of the eighteenth century—and of the Irish Parliament.

Another fiction regarding the Union may perhaps be worth notice. It has sometimes been suggested that it was carried by a venal oligarchy in opposition to the will of the great mass of the population, of the Roman Catholic population in particular. This is precisely the reverse of the truth. The oligarchy controlled the Parliament, and it therefore followed that the uniformly corrupt traditions of the Irish Parliament had to be observed in carrying the Union as in carrying every other Government Bill throughout the century. But, so far from the Act of Union being carried by landowners and Protestants against the will of the Catholics, it was, as a matter of fact, carried with the ardent and unanimous assent and support of the Catholic hierarchy, and against the embittered opposition of the old ascendancy leaders, who feared the loss of their influence of power.

The evidence on this point is documentary and precise. Indeed, no one thought of doubting or challenging it at the time; Grattan contented himself with denouncing the Catholic Bishops as ‘a band of prostituted men.’ Dr. Troy, Archbishop of Dublin, was, as his correspondence shows, a warm, consistent and active supporter of the Union. Dr. Dillon, Archbishop of Tuam, wrote in September, 1799, that he had had an opportunity during his recent visitation ‘of acquiring the strongest conviction that this measure alone can restore harmony and happiness to our unhappy country.’ His neighbour, Dr. Bodkin, Bishop of Galway, wrote that the Union was the only measure to save ‘poor infatuated Ireland’ from ‘ruin and destruction.’ Dr. Moylan, Bishop of Cork, was equally emphatic. ‘I am perfectly satisfied,’ he says, ‘that it is impossible to extinguish the feuds and animosities which disgrace this Kingdom, nor give it the advantages of its natural local situation, without a Union with Great Britain. God grant that it may soon take place!’


As for the feeling of the rank and file of the electors—under a very widely extended franchise—two examples will suffice. In two cases—in the County of Kerry and the borough of Newry—both open constituencies—by-elections occurred during the passing of the Union legislation. In both instances the Roman Catholic vote predominated, and in both the feeling was so strong in favour of the Union that no opponent dared to face the poll. In after years Mr. Maurice Fitzgerald, the Knight of Kerry, recounted his experiences. ‘Having accepted office,’ he says, ‘as a supporter of the Union, I went to two elections pending the measure and was returned without opposition in a county where the Roman Catholic interest greatly preponderated, and a declaration almost unanimous in favour of the Union proceeded from the County of Kerry. One of my most strenuous supporters in bringing forward that declaration was Mr. Mauric O'Connell, uncle of Mr. Daniel O'Connell, and my most active partisan was Mr. John O'Connell, brother of Mr. Daniel O'Connell.’

In Newry an attempt was made to put up an anti-Unionist candidate, but the Roman Catholic Bishop, Dr. Lennan, met and repulsed the intruder in militant fashion. ‘Mr. Bell,’ he reports to Archbishop Troy,‘ declined the poll, and surrendered yesterday. The Catholics stuck together like the Macedonian phalanx, and with ease were able to turn the scale in favour of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.’

To the Irish Catholic at the time of the Union, the Dublin legislature was, indeed, in the words of Mr. Denys Scully, a leading Catholic layman, ‘not our Parliament, for we had no share in it, but their Club-house.’

The summing up of the whole matter is perhaps best expressed in the measured judgment of Mr. John Morley in his study of the life of Edmund Burke. Burke, in an evil moment for himself and for Ireland, had lent himself in 1785 to what Mr. Morley called the ‘factious’ and ‘detestable’ course of Fox and the English Whig leaders in destroying Pitt's Commercial Propositions.


‘ Had it not been for what he himself called the delirium of the preceding session’ (writes Burke's biographer).6 ‘he would have seen that Pitt was in truth taking his first measures for the emancipation of Ireland from an unjust and oppressive subordination and for her installation as a corporate member of the Empire—the only position permanently possible for her. ... A substantial boon was sacrificed amid bonfires and candles to the phantom of Irish Legislative Independence. The result must have convinced Pitt more firmly than ever that his great master, Adam Smith, was right in predicting that nothing short of the Union of the two countries would deliver Ireland out of the hands of her fatuous chiefs and of their too worthy followers.’

What would Mr. John Morley, the historian who wrote those words in the prime of his intellectual strength and judgment, have said if any one had told him that in his old age Lord Morley, the politician, would have been actively engaged in assisting another generation of ‘fatuous chiefs’ and still more worthy followers to sacrifice the true interests of Ireland in the pursuit of ‘the phantom of Irish Legislative Independence’?

After The Union

That the Union to some extent failed in the beneficent effects which it was calculated to produce in Ireland is only another instance of the working of the ‘curse of mischance’ which has so often, before and since, interposed to thwart the intentions of statesmen in their dealings with the two countries. Pitt, Castlereagh, and Cornwallis, the three men chiefly concerned in planning the change, were all agreed in explaining that the Union was not a policy complete in itself, but was only the necessary foundation upon which a true remedial policy was to be based. As Lord Cornwallis said at the time, ‘the word ‘Union’ will not cure the ills of this wretched country. It is a necessary preliminary, but a great deal more remains to be done.’ Catholic Emancipation, a series of parliamentary, educational, financial, and economic reforms, and the


abolition of the Viceroyalty, the visible symbol of separatism and dependence, were all essential portions of Pitt's scheme. But Pitt was destined to sink into an early grave without seeing any of them materially furthered. Treacherous colleagues and the threatened insanity of the King blocked the way of some of them: England's prolonged struggle for existence against the power of Napoleon, involving as it did financial embarrassment and a generation of political reaction, accounted for the rest.

Pitt and Castlereagh resigned on the King's refusal to accept their advice, ‘and so,’ as Lord Rosebery says,7 ‘all went wrong.’ It was ‘like cutting the face out of a portrait and leaving the picture in the frame. The fragment of policy flapped forlornly on the deserted mansions of the capital.’ A generation of agitation, strife, and discontent was to pass before Emancipation was carried, and the reforms had to wait still longer. Meanwhile a wonderful change of front had taken place. The leading opponents of the Union—Plunket, Foster, Beresford—even Grattan himself—came to accept it, and, in some cases, figured as its warmest defenders. And the Catholic Party, whom we have seen so strongly supporting the Union, gradually grew into opponents. Daniel O'Connell, whose brother and uncle were the leading supporters of the Union candidate for Kerry, started a formidable agitation first for Emancipation and then for Repeal of the Union. In the former he succeeded because enlightened public opinion in both countries was on his side: in the latter he failed utterly, both parties in Great Britain and a large section in Ireland being inflexibly opposed to any such reactionary experiment. In the end O'Connell died disillusioned and broken-hearted, and the Repeal movement disappeared from the field of Irish politics till revived many years later in the form of Home Rule.

But whilst recognising the fact that the Union, owing to the causes stated, failed partially, and for a time, to respond to all the anticipations of its authors, readers must be warned


against accepting the wild and woeful tales of decay and ruin that were recklessly circulated for propagandist purposes by O'Connell and the Repealers. Many people who are content to take their facts at second hand have thus come to believe that the legislative Union changed a smiling and prosperous Kingdom into a blighted province where manufactures and agriculture, commerce and population fell into rapid and hopeless decline. Needless to say, things do not happen in that way: economic changes, for better or for worse, are slow and gradual and depend on natural causes, not on artificial. Ireland has not, as a whole, kept in line with nineteenth-century progress, and her population, after a striking increase for over forty years, showed under peculiar causes an equally striking decrease; but to assert that her course has been one of universal decay and of decay dating from the Union is to say what is demonstrably untrue.

It was inevitable that a city of very limited industry like Dublin should suffer from the disappearance of its Parliament, which brought into residence for some months in every year some hundreds of persons of wealth and distinction. It was also inevitable that the mechanical inventions to which we have already alluded—the steam-engine, the ‘spinning jenny,’ and the ‘mule’—which revolutionised the world's industry, should have their effect in Ireland also. Under primitive conditions, with lands almost roadless and communications slow, difficult and costly, the various districts of any country had of necessity to produce articles of food and clothing to satisfy their requirements, or they had to go without. With the progress of invention, and with the opening up of the world by roads and canals, a totally different state of things presents itself. Industries tend to become centralised—the fittest survive and grow, the unfit wither away. This is what occurred in many districts of England and Scotland, and the course of events was naturally the same in Ireland.

When we read of small towns now lying idle, which in the eighteenth century produced woollen cloth, linen, cotton,


fustian, boots, hats, glass, beer, and food products, it simply means that a more highly organised system of industry has in its progress left such districts behind in the race. The woollen manufacture has centred in Yorkshire, cotton in Lancashire, linen in Belfast, and so forth—one district dwindled as others advanced and tended to monopolise production, without the legislature having anything to say to it. To say that this or that manufacture is not so prosperous in Ireland as it was a century ago before power looms, spindles, steamships, and railways came to revolutionise industry, is simply to say that Ireland, like other countries, has had its part, for better or for worse, in the great world-movement of nineteenth-century industry.

The figures of Irish exports and imports lend no countenance to the story of decay setting in with the Union. Taking the two decennial periods, before and after the Union, the figures are as follows:8

PeriodTotal value of importsTotal value of exports
1790–1801£ 49,000,000£ 51,000,000
1802–1813£ 74,000,000£ 63,000,000
Increase£ 25,000,000£ 12,000,000

An increase of over fifty per cent in imports, and over twenty-three per cent in exports in the ten years after the Union as compared with the ten years before it.

Taking single years the result is similar. The amalgamation of the two Exchequers and the financial re-arrangements that followed, put an end to the accurate record of exports and imports until quite recently, but the increase during the early years of the Union and also over the whole country is unmistakable. The average annual value of Irish exports at the time of the Union was, according to Mr. Chart,9 £ 4,000,000. In 1826 they had increased to £ 8,000,000, a corresponding increase being recorded in


imports. Coming down to the period of the Financial Relations Commission (1895), that very cautious and painstaking statistician, the late Sir Robert Giffen,10 roughly estimated Irish imports at £ 25,000,000 and exports at £ 20,000,000. Since that time the Irish Agricultural Department has been created, and has undertaken the collection and tabulation of such statistics. Turning to their latest report we find that the imports had in 1910 attained the relatively enormous figure of £ 65,000,000, and the exports £ 65,800,000, a total of over £ 130,000,000 in place of nine or ten millions, at the very outside, of the time of the Union. And it is worth noting in addition that, for the first time in these recorded tables, Ireland's exports exceed her imports.

But we are assured with triumphant and invincible despondency that population has decreased alarmingly. The movements of population since the time of the Union have been, it may be admitted, very remarkable, but the figures are double-edged and require a more careful handling than they generally receive. If we are to assume, as the prophets of gloom will have it, that increase and decrease of population are an infallible test of a country's growth or decay, then Ireland for nearly half a century after the Union must have been the most prosperous country in


Europe. The population of Ireland, which in 1792 was estimated at £ 4,088,226, had increased in 1814 to £ 5,937,856, in 1821 to £ 6,801,827, and in 1841 to £ 8,196,597. In other words, the population, like the trade, of the doomed island had more than doubled since the Union. We doubt if any European country could say as much.

Then came the great disaster, the potato famine of 1846–47, which, undoubtedly, dealt a stunning blow to Irish agriculture. It was not the first, nor the worst, of Irish famines—there is evidence that the famines of 1729 and 1740 were, proportionately, more widespread and more appalling in their effects. But, occurring as it did, in the middle of the nineteenth century, with the press of the world as witnesses, it attracted immense attention, and the nations, whom England, then high and mighty in the undisputed supremacy of the doctrines of laissez faire and free trade, were not slow in retorting on their mentor. The State, it was laid down dogmatically by the economists, must not do anything to feed the starving people, because that would interfere with the principle of private enterprise; and as there was naturally no private enterprise in wide stretches of country where landlord and tenant, shopkeeper and labourer, were involved in common ruin, the people starved. For the same reason, the sufferers must not be paid to do useful work, so they were set to make roads that led to nowhere—and that have been grass-grown ever since—and to build walls that had to be pulled down again.

It was a ghastly specimen of doctrinaire dogmatism run mad, and though it was not the fault of the Government so much as of the arid doctrines of ill-understood economics which then prevailed in the schools, it did more than anything to embitter the relations between the Irish people and the Imperial Government. The death-rate from famine and famine-fever was appalling. The poor law system—then a new experiment in Ireland—broke down hopelessly, and agitators were not slow to improve the occasion by denouncing the ‘callousness’ of the Imperial Government.


Nations, as a rule, recover from such calamities as famine, war, and pestilence with surprising quickness; but there were certain incidents connected with the famine of 1846–47 that intensified and perpetuated the evil in the case of Ireland. We have already referred to the high-and-dry doctrines of laissez faire then in the ascendant, and any real or permanent recovery of Irish agriculture was rendered practically impossible by England's adhesion to the doctrine of free imports, by the abolition of the Corn Laws, and by the crushing increase of taxation under Mr Gladstone's budgets of 1853 and the succeeding years.

Ireland was entitled under the Act of Union to ‘special exemptions and abatements’ in taxation, in consideration of her backward economic condition. All Chancellors of the Exchequer till Mr. Gladstone's time respected these exemptions, and although no one could suggest, in view of Ireland's recent progress, that she could have been permanently exempted from the burdens imposed on the British taxpayer, it will be admitted that the time chosen by Mr. Gladstone for abruptly raising the taxation of Ireland from 14s. 9d. per head to 26s. 7d. was inopportune, not to say ungenerous.

Sir David Barbour, in his minority report on the Financial Relations Commission, perhaps the most carefully thought out and the most practical of all the many reports emanating, from that heterogeneous body, gives a table of the ‘estimated true revenue’ extracted from Great Britain and Ireland respectively from 1819 to 1894. This table shows that the revenue raised from Ireland was increased between 1849–50 and 1859–60 from £ 4,861,465 to £ 7,700,334 and he adds: ‘It will be observed that a great and rapid rise took place in the taxation of Ireland during the decade 1850–1860. This great increase was due to the equalisation of the spirit duties in the two countries, and the extension of the Income Tax to Ireland. The special circumstances of Ireland do not appear to have received due consideration at this time. Many arguments of a general character might be employed to justify the equalisation of


the spirit duties, and the imposition of an Income Tax, but Ireland was entitled under the Act of Union to such exemptions and abatements as her circumstances might require, and the time was not opportune for imposing additional burdens upon her.’

Irish Agriculture was thus almost simultaneously struck down by the greatest famine of the century, which swept away two million of the population, disabled for resuming the competition by the free admission of foreign grain, which in the long run rendered successful corn-growing in Ireland impossible, and saddled with an additional two and a quarter millions of taxation. When remonstrated with Mr. Gladstone retorted flippantly that he could not see that it was any part of the rights of man that an Irishman should be able to make himself drunk more cheaply than the inhabitant of Great Britain. The taunt would have possessed more relevance if whisky had been an article of importation. Seeing, however, that it was an article of manufacture and export, employing directly or indirectly much capital and labour, the injury to Irish industry was very serious, many distilleries and breweries being obliged to close their doors.

As Miss Murray says in her masterly work on Irish commerce11:— Just as the country was thoroughly exhausted from the effects of the famine, the whole financial policy adopted towards Ireland changed, and Irish taxation began to be rapidly assimilated to British at a time when great prosperity had come to Great Britain, and the reverse to Ireland. The repeal of the Corn Laws had stimulated the commercial prosperity of Britain; large cities were expanding, railways were developing, and the foreign trade of the country was increasing by leaps and bounds. But Ireland had just passed through the awful ordeal of famine: her population had suddenly diminished by one fourth, there had been a universal decline in Irish manufactures, the repeal of the Corn Laws had begun the destruction of the Irish export trade in cereals, and the extension


of the Poor Law system to Ireland had greatly increased the local rates. Just as the famine subsided the results of free trade began to take effect. Wheat-growing decayed; local industries were destroyed by the competition of large manufacturing towns in Great Britain; every class of Irish producers saw ruin staring him in the face, while landlords and farmers were further impoverished by the huge poor-rates, which sometimes reached 20s. in the £. The misery and poverty of the country could hardly have been greater, and to us at the present day it seems extraordinary that just at this inopportune time the Government should have thought fit to go back from the conciliatory fiscal policy which had existed since 1817.’’

It is not to be wondered at that Gladstonian finance was ever after looked at with well-grounded suspicion in Ireland.

Another circumstance that has had a serious and lasting effect on Irish population has still to be mentioned. At first the emigration movement was largely a flight from starvation, a movement that would have come to an end under normal circumstances with the end of the famine crisis. But as we have seen, the conditions were not normal; the crisis was artificially protracted by injurious financial legislation. And, in addition, although many of them perished by the way owing to the abominably insanitary conditions of the coffin ships employed for the journey, the emigrants arriving at New York or Boston soon found conditions unexpectedly favourable for the class of labour which they were best qualified to supply. America was just then opening up and turning to the new West, and the demand for unskilled labour for railway work was unlimited. The Irish emigrant seldom or never takes to the land when he goes to America, and navvy work just suited him. To a man accustomed to sixpence a day the wages offered seemed to represent unbounded wealth, and as the news spread in Ireland the move to America, which at the first seemed hopeless exile, presented itself as a highly desirable step towards social betterment. Emigration is now the result of attraction from America rather than of repulsion from Ireland, a fact which explains


the failure of more than one well-meant attempt to check the movement by action on this side of the Atlantic.

Ulster Development

A word should perhaps be given to the position of the industrial portion of Ulster, which has flourished so remarkably since the Union. This of itself affords sufficient proof that that Act, whatever its defects, cannot be held accountable for any lack of prosperity that may still exist in other parts of Ireland. It is sometimes stated that Ulster was favoured at the time when the commercial jealousy of certain English cities succeeded in securing a prohibition of the Irish woollen industry. The southern wool, it is alleged, was checked, and the Belfast linen was favoured—hence the prosperity of the northern capital. This is a really curious perversion of quite modern history. The linen industry was at the time in question in no sense confined to the North and was by no means prominent in Belfast. It was distributed over many districts of Ireland, for whilst Louis Crommelin was sent to Lisburn to look after the French colony settled there, and to improve and promote the industry, his brother William was sent on a similar errand to Kilkenny, and stations were also started at Rathkeale, Cork and Waterford. When, later on, the Irish Parliament distributed bounties through the Linen Board, the seat of that Board was in Dublin, and its operations included every county in Ireland.

At the time of the Union, indeed, the linen manufacture was almost unknown in Belfast, the ‘manufacturers’ or handloom weavers in the North, as elsewhere, living mostly in the smaller country towns and bringing their webs in for sale on certain market days. From Benn's History of the Town of Belfast, published early in the century, we learn that at that time the principal manufacture of the town was ‘cotton in its various branches.’ This industry had been introduced in 1777, we are told, to give employment in the poorhouse, but it caught on and spread


amazingly. ‘In many of the streets and populous roads in the suburbs of the town, particularly at Ballymacarrett, the sound of the loom issues almost from every house, and all, with very few exceptions, are employed in the different branches of the cotton trade. In the year 1800 this business engaged in Belfast and its neighbourhood 27,000 persons.’ In 1814 there were eight cotton mills at work with steam power driving 99,000 spindles. On the other hand, ‘there is very little linen cloth woven in this town or parish. In 1807 Belfast contained 723 looms, only four of which were for weaving linen.’

The story of the sudden change from cotton to linen is an instructive one. Cotton appears to have forced itself to the front because cotton spinning could be carried on by machinery whilst the linen weavers were still dependent on the spinning wheel for their yarn. It was Andrew Mulholland, the owner of the York Street cotton mill, who first took note of the fact that while the supply of hand-made linen yarn was quite insufficient to justify the manufacture of linen on a large scale in Belfast, quantities of flax were shipped from Belfast to Manchester to be spun there and reimported as yarn. Mulholland determined to try if he could not spin yarn as well as the Manchester people, and accordingly in 1830, ‘the first bundle of linen yarn produced by machinery in Belfast was thrown off from the York Street mill.’ That, and not legislation nor any system of State bounties or State favour, was the beginning of the Belfast linen industry in which the York Street mill still maintains its deserved pre-eminence. When the critical moment arrived, as it does in the case of all industries, when manufacturers must adapt themselves to new methods or succumb, the Belfast leaders of industry rose to the occasion and secured for themselves the chief share in the linen trade. In the rest of Ireland, it is true, the manufacture dwindled and disappeared, but whatever may have been the cause of that disappearance, it was certainly not the Act of Union.


The Land Question

The agrarian problem has caused more trouble in Ireland than any other, and statesmen have long recognised that on its definite settlement depends the hope of permanent peace and progress over the greater part of the country. It is not, and never has been, the real cause of rural depopulation, for, as we have seen, the increase of the rural population was most rapid at the time when agrarian conditions were at their very worst, whilst on the other hand emigration continues almost unchecked in counties where the question has been virtually settled. And in 1881 the late Mr. J. H. Tuke discovered by an analysis of the census returns that the only ‘townlands’ in which the rural population was actually increasing were those scattered along the western sea-board of Ireland, where the tenure and the conditions of existence seemed most hopeless. But, as the Devon Commission announced in 1845, it was an essentially defective system of land tenure that lay at the root of the perennial discontent with which Ireland was troubled, and things went from bad to worse until the Party organised for the defence of the Union and the social betterment of Ireland took up the task of settling the question by the transfer on fair terms of the ownership of the soil from the large land-owners to the tenants.

The system of land tenure in England has been the growth of custom gradually hardening into law; in Ireland the traditional custom was suddenly abolished, and English law substituted in its place. The English law was no doubt a better law, and one more fitted to a progressive community; but in Ireland it violently upset the traditional law of the country, and, consequently, was met with sullen and unremitting hostility. By Irish law, the tribe was owner; the tribesmen were joint proprietors, and the forfeiture of the chief did not involve the forfeiture of the land occupied by the tribesmen. By English law, however, these latter, such of them as were not expelled or exiled, suddenly found themselves transformed from joint-owners into tenants at


will. Further, the difficulty of dealing direct with tenants, experienced by landlords who were in very many cases absentees, led to the abominable ‘middleman’ system by which the owner leased great stretches of land to some one who undertook to ‘manage’ it for him, and who in turn sub-let it in smaller patches at rack-rents to those who, to get back their money, had to sub-let again at still higher rents. The result was, as an official report in the eighteenth century states: ‘It is well known that over the most part of the country, the lands are sub-let six deep, so that those who actually labour it are squeezed to the very utmost.’ And Lord Chesterfield, when Viceroy, complained of the oppression of the people by ‘deputies of deputies of deputies.’ The eighteenth-century policy of checking or suppressing the industrial enterprises of the English colony aggravated the evil until, as Lord Dufferin expressed it: ‘Debarred from every other industry, the entire nation flung itself back upon the land, with as fatal an impulse as when a river whose current is suddenly impeded, rolls back and drowns the valley it once fertilised.’

In time the middleman tended to die out, but the evil results of the system in preventing direct and friendly and helpful relations between landlord and tenant remained. Here and there, even in Arthur Young's time, enterprising and devoted landlords had established something like the ‘English system’ on their estates, but, as a rule, the landlord remained a mere rent charger. The report of the Devon Commission says:— It is admitted on all hands that, according to the general practice in Ireland, the landlord neither builds dwelling-houses nor farm offices, nor puts fences, gates, etc., in good order before he lets his land to a tenant. The cases where a landlord does any of these things are the exception. In most cases, whatever is done in the way of building or fencing is done by the tenant, and in the ordinary language of the country, dwelling-houses, farm buildings, and even the making of fences, are described by the general word, ‘improvements’, which is thus employed to denote the necessary adjuncts of a farm without which in England or Scotland no tenant would be found to rent it.’’


In a word, as one who owned land both in England and in Ireland put it, ‘In England we let farms, in Ireland we let land.’ And by law an unjust landlord had the power at any moment to expel a tenant or a group of tenants, although no rent was owing, and without giving any compensation for the ‘improvements’ which were the sole work of the tenant. Most landlords acted reasonably and equitably in such matters, but, especially among the new class of purely mercantile purchasers who came in under the Landed Estates Court after the great famine of 1846, there were too many who insisted on their extreme legal rights, thus disturbing the peace of the country and producing the Irish Land Question in an acute form that called for State interference.

The systems of ‘compensation for improvements’ (1870), and of rent fixing by itinerant tribunals (1881), were tried in turn, but each was found to raise more difficulties than it settled, until finally Mr. Parnell and his Land League set the whole country in a flame, and produced a series of strikes against the payment of any rent. For some years it is hardly too much to say that the law of the League, with its purely revolutionary propaganda, supplanted the law of the land and reduced large areas to a condition of chaos, the decrees of the ‘village ruffians,’ who ruled the situation, being enforced by systematic outrage and assassination.

The first statesman who made a really serious attempt to meet this appalling state of things was Mr. Arthur Balfour, who, as Chief Secretary for Ireland, resolutely took up the task, first of repressing crime and enforcing the law, and then of recasting the whole land system in such a way that the tenant, transformed into an owner, would for the first time feel it his interest to range himself on the side of the law and of orderly government. At the same time, a systematic attempt was made to deal with the question of perennial poverty in the extreme West of Ireland in what came to be known as the ‘Congested Districts.’ The construction of railways and piers, the draining of land, and the


provision of instruction in agriculture, fisheries, etc., speedily gave promise of a new era in the economic history of a hitherto helpless and hopeless population.

All this was done by Mr. Balfour and his successors in spite of opposition and obstruction of a kind such as no Chief Secretary had ever before had to encounter. Formerly, all through the centuries, whenever a Viceroy or Chief Secretary was face to face with an organised outbreak of crime and sedition in Ireland, both British parties united in supporting and strengthening the hands of the executive as representing the Crown. Mr. Gladstone's extraordinary reversal of policy and principle in the winter of 1885–86 put an end to all this, and gravely increased the difficulties of the Irish Government.

When Mr. Gladstone was first confronted with the demand for, even in the mild and constitutional form advocated by Mr. Isaac Butt, and his Home Government Association, founded in the autumn of 1870, he promptly declared, like Mr. John Morley, that legislative Union with Great Britain was the only position permanently possible for an island situated as Ireland is. In a speech at Aberdeen he indignantly asked— Can any sensible man, can any rational man, suppose that at this time of day, in this condition of the world, we are going to disintegrate the great capital institutions of this country for the purpose of making ourselves ridiculous in the sight of all mankind and crippling any powers we possess for conferring benefits on the country to which we belong.’’

Sept. 26, 1871.

And for fifteen years, in power or in opposition, Mr. Gladstone preached and acted upon the same doctrine. When the Land League was founded he denounced it as an organisation whose steps were ‘dogged with crime,’ and whose march was ‘through rapine to the dismemberment of the Empire.’ The League was finally ‘proclaimed’ by his Government as a criminal conspiracy and its members, from Mr. Parnell downwards, arrested and imprisoned


without trial as being ‘reasonably suspected’ of criminal practices.

This continued until in an unfortunate moment for himself Mr. Gladstone discovered, in November, 1885, that the votes of Mr. Parnell and his eighty-six colleagues were necessary for his own return to power as Prime Minister, whereupon he entered into negotiations which resulted, on the one hand, in his securing the necessary votes, and on the other in his accepting the principles and the policy of those whom until then he had denounced and imprisoned as instigators to crime and sedition. He rightly recognised that there was no half-way house, and that he could not become a Home Ruler without accepting and defending the actions of the Home Rulers. He worshipped what he had formerly burnt, and he burned what he had hitherto worshipped. The result was that for several years England beheld for the first time the scandalous spectacle of men who had held high office under the Crown openly defending—and even instigating—lawlessness and disorder, shielding and excusing criminals, proved such before the courts, and thwarting, misrepresenting, and obstructing those whose duty it was to restore order and legality in Ireland.

Such were the difficulties that confronted Mr. Arthur Balfour as Chief Secretary for Ireland from 1887 to 1891, difficulties which he surmounted with such resolution and such statesmanship that he retired from an office that has been called ‘the grave of reputations’ with a reputation so much enhanced as to ensure him the leadership of his party and the gratitude of Irishmen of all classes for generations to come. And yet his method was a supremely simple one—to reassert the supremacy of the law, to neglect, almost ostentatiously, all merely political cries, and to set himself seriously to deal with the real Irish question, that of conferring some measure of security and prosperity on a population which over wide districts had known too little of such things.

Occupying ownership of Irish land by means of State credit was not, of course, a new policy in Mr. Balfour's day.


The Bright clauses (1869) had introduced the principle into the Statute-book, and Lord Ashbourne's Act (1885) had carried it several steps further. But it was Mr. Arthur Balfour and his successors, Mr. Gerald Balfour and Mr. George Wyndham, who carried it by a series of boldly conceived steps almost within sight of completion. So thorough was the success of this policy of land purchase, and so marked was the cessation of crime and outrage and seditious agitation in every district into which it was carried, that those who made their living by agitation grew alarmed, and did all in their power to stop the working of the Purchase Acts. One Nationalist member declared that the process had gone ‘quite far enough,’ and that he wished it could be stopped. The farmers who had purchased their holdings were declared to have become selfish, and ‘as bad as the landlords.’ In other words, they had become orderly and industrious, and had ceased to subscribe for the upkeep of the United Irish League and its salaried agitators.

The unhappy result of this outcry on the part of those whose occupation would be gone, and who would be compelled to resort to honest industry should Ireland become peaceful and prosperous, was the passing of Mr. Birrell's ‘amending’ Bill, which has practically stopped for the present the beneficent working of the Wyndham Act of 1903. Under the various purchase Acts over 180,000 Irish farmers have become the owners of their holdings, thanks to over one hundred millions of public money advanced on Imperial credit for the purpose. The first task of a Unionist government, when again in power, must be the resumption of this policy of State-aided land-purchase—the only completely and unquestionably successful and pacifying piece of agrarian legislation in the history of English rule in Ireland.

Other writers will give, later on, a more detailed account of various branches of Unionist practical policy in Ireland. The story of the Congested Districts Board, Mr. Arthur Balfour's special work, is a romance in itself. So well, in fact, has it accomplished its immediate task that the time has probably come when it could with advantage be merged


in the later created Department of Agriculture and Technical Instruction. This department, which has been linked up with the County or Borough Councils, by the legislation of Mr. Gerald Balfour, has done an immense amount of educational and practical work in connection with agriculture in all its branches, including dairying, poultry rearing, fruit-growing, and other rural industries, not to speak of technical instruction in matters suited for artisans and town workers. These remarkable achievements, the work of successive Unionist Governments from 1896 to 1906, have revolutionised the face of the country, and are bringing about a new Ireland. The chief danger now lies in the intrigues of discredited politicians, whose object is to divert the eyes of the people from practical, remedial, and constructive legislation, and to keep them fixed upon what Mr. John Morley has called ‘the phantom of Irish legislative independence.’