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"The gravest situation of our lives": conservatives, ulster, and the home rule crisis, 1911-14.

ON THE second page of his pithy survey of twentieth-century Britain, Peter Clarke sets out a proposition which might well serve as the theme for this essay. "British history," he says, "has generally dealt with nationalism by ignoring it." (1) In this regard it may be argued that one of the keys to understanding the Edwardian Conservative party's response to the Irish question was its effective denial of the existence of authentic nationalism among Ireland's Catholic population. At the same time most English Tories conveniently imagined that the nationalist sentiments of Protestant Ulstermen, manifested in their grim readiness to resist the implementation of home rule by any means, violent or otherwise, were merely a demonstration of what Leo Amery called "a pride in the greatness of British imperial citizenship." (2) Paul Bew has asserted that by thus treating Ulster unionism "as merely a negative appendage to nationalism," its real dimensions have been obscured). (3) This blinkered and self-serving Tory vision of the nature of the Irish struggle, and of its chief Irish combatants, seems an appropriate starting place for an effort to understand why many English Conservatives behaved as they did during the prewar home-rule crisis.

When Lord Milner told Frederick Scott Oliver in late November 1913 that "we are up against the gravest situation of our lives," he was, no doubt unconsciously, echoing an assessment of the Irish imbroglio made by his Conservative colleague Walter Long a few months earlier. (4) The Irish situation was so grave because, as both the coldly calculating Milner and easily agitated Long had concluded, H. H. Asquith's Liberal government, in collusion with the Irish Nationalist party, seemed genuinely determined to enact some form of Gladstonian/Parnellian home rule while Ulster unionists were vowing to resist the implementation of such legislation by any means, including armed force. For English Tories there seemed no easy way out of this worrisome impasse. Earlier some hope had momentarily been held out for F. S. Oliver's own federalist plan for "home rule all round." But Oliver, who rightly continues to fascinate historians, (5) blamed the failure of his scheme to make headway at the inter-party conference in 1910 on the "north of Ireland people," who were, he believed, "exceedingly foolish [and] ... strangely blind to signs of the times." (6) In fact, while Oliver's federalist solution briefly had the backing of The Times as well as Austen Chamberlain and even Milner, Tories in general were frightened by his activist, Americanized approach. For while most, though not all, Conservatives recoiled from the idea of their party being dragged into the position of supporting violent resistance to a legally constituted government, they hoped that, when it came to Ireland, they could have it every possible way so long as that way was negative. No compromise, no home rule, no Ulster resistance, nothing but the status quo. This would be best, they believed, because if negativism did prevail, the Liberals would eventually be turned out of office, the Irish nationalist cause would be laid bare as mere quackery spouted by corrupt, stock-jobbing politicians and morally bankrupt priests, and finally, once the Liberals were removed from power and the fraudulent nature of Irish nationalism had been exposed, Ulster Protestants, as sincere British patriots, would be satisfied and cease threatening to do rash things.

But what if, before negativism could triumph, the Liberals, the Irish Nationalists, the Ulster Unionists, or even the British electorate, each in their own way, demanded some tangible resolution to the Irish situation? Could such far-ranging, often bitterly competing, constituencies be separately and contradictorily frightened, cajoled, coddled, or convinced that an enduringly negative policy was really the best of all policies? Such a possibility seemed unlikely for a party that was not only out of power but also badly divided by deep differences over tariff reform, food taxes, social policy, and Lloyd George's impending land campaign. E. E. H. Green's detailed and impressive analysis of Edwardian Conservative discomfiture reveals the depth and breadth of the difficulties facing the Tories after January 1910. (7) What to do?

During the final years of the Edwardian era that question was being seriously contemplated not only by Lord Milner and Walter Long but by every important Tory politician, most especially by Andrew Bonar Law, party chief after November 1911. For his part, as late as November 1913, Walter Long clung to the belief that if English Tories stood staunchly behind Irish unionists, and by this he meant both the Ulster and southern Ireland variety of unionists, while resisting the Liberals "in Parliament and out," such a stand might "make their government of the country an impossibility, and ... compel them to face the electors...." On the other hand, such a consummation was not one that Milner wished for, devoutly or otherwise. First of all, the antidemocratic Milner feared, even as late as November 1913, that Unionists might not win an election, and more ominously, he asserted that not "even a [Liberal] victory ... at the polls would justify the coercion of Ulster." (8) What Milner wanted instead was a "`strenuous & not too scrupulous conspiracy'" to undermine the government's authority and thus give the Conservative party moral and constitutional leave to support Ulster Protestants (by this time, Milner, unlike Long, was no longer greatly concerned about southern unionism) in whatever action they took to avoid the rule of a Catholic/nationalist Dublin parliament. (9)

Long's strategy had the virtue of being both straightforward and time-honored; Milner's plan, seeming at once to combine the vision of a true believer and the detachment of a jaded cynic, was both more modern and more subversive. Still, final determination of the party's official policy in confronting the Irish muddle was not left to the likes of Milner and Long. At the crucial juncture of the home-rule crisis Conservative marching orders regarding Ireland were issued by Andrew Bonar Law, who had assumed the party leadership at a time when the dour Scots-Canadian's most daunting challenge was reviving a demoralized and faction-riven party.

The deepest Tory divisions had been wrought by what, the newspaper magnate Lord Northcliffe caustically termed "the influence of the invalid in Highbury." But shades of Joe Chamberlain, tariff reform, and food taxes aside, another journalist, H. A. Gwynne, believed that "the most urgent necessity for the Unionist party" was to convince working men that the Conservative party cared as much for their interests "as did Lloyd George and his gang." (10) Thus, in November 1910 neither of these influential Tory newspapermen even mentioned Ireland or home rule in diagnosing the party's troubles and possible cures. Of course, this was prior to the second election of 1910, whose indeterminate result had led to the introduction of the parliament bill, an event which, rather than uniting the Tories, only heightened their divergence, as "Ditchers," "Hedgers," and "Rats" exchanged accusations, innuendoes, and insults. (11) A month after the ensuing partial disarmament of the House of Lords, Walter Long, claiming (for perhaps the third time that year) never to be "so profoundly moved as I am at this moment," told Arthur Balfour that the party, torn by "discontent, want of unity, [and] desire for ... unqualified guidance," could only end "the long nightmare ... with a fighting policy behind a fighting leader." (12) Whether or not Long's letter influenced Balfour's decision to resign the party leadership, there were few questions about the pugilistic tendencies of his successor. If Bonar Law was anything, he was a fighter, and as leader of what his latest biographer has called "a bad-tempered party moving towards the political right," Law offered grimly determined, if more narrowly concentrated, resistance to home rule. Frans Coetzee, perhaps unfairly, pictures the new Tory leader as an "icy Presbyterian, warming to the task of turning the Conservative party into an anti-home rule instrument." (13) In any case, when Ulster became the focus of the burning glass that Bonar Law turned upon the Liberal government, his chief weapon was not ice but fire.

But was Ireland really the most advantageous arena in which the Tories could carry on the political struggle? The responses of contemporary commentators to this question differed substantially. For example, in August 1911, a month after he was appointed editor of The Times, Geoffrey Robinson (later Dawson) renounced the "mistaken theory that the Unionist party is going to get back to power through uncompromising opposition to home rule." (14) Other Conservatives, frustrated by continued divisions over tariff reform and social policy, turned to Ulster with what Paul Bew has called "undiscriminating enthusiasm." (15) Such differences are equally apparent among historians. In a recent study Stephen Evans asserted that "Ulster provided the Conservative party with a fail-safe route to redemption from the political pusillanimity of the Balfour years." (16) In contrast, E. E. H. Green holds that far from serving as "an issue or programme that would bind the forces of Conservatism together," the Irish crisis produced as many or more conflicting opinions as any of the other issues that divided the Tories. (17)

Obviously, then, there remains considerable dispute about the value of Law's use of the Orange card. And when it comes to discussions about his effectiveness in playing that card, there are similarly contradictory conclusions. E. E. H. Green says that by choosing Ireland, an issue fraught with deep and disturbing constitutional ramifications, Law led his party "into a political minefield" from which they were barely rescued by the Great War. On the other hand, Jeremy Smith believes that Bonar Law's leadership on the Irish issue "brought the party out of its Edwardian wilderness." (18)

According to Smith, Law's pushing the Irish crisis to the brink of civil disorder was "a huge game of bluff" because civil war was never an aspect of his "thought-world." Still, as R. J. Q. Adams' scrupulous scholarship has made plain, and, indeed, as Bonar Law himself pointed out in a letter to The Times a month after assuming the party leadership, there would be "no shrinking from any action ... necessary to defeat one of the most ignoble conspiracies ... ever ... formed against the liberties of free-born men." (19) Early in 1912, Leopold Amery enthusiastically bolstered Law's stand with assurances that Conservatives could "absolutely" count on Ulster to fight. A few weeks later, Amery informed Henry Wilson, the serpentine Anglo-Irish director of military operations, of Bonar Law's conviction "that if the north of Ireland resorts to fighting, so ought all loyal men in this country." (20) Of course, Amery may simply have been assuming that everyone, including Law, was as eager to fight as he himself was. Still, Stephen Evans has emphatically asserted that the "inherent justice of her [Ulster's] cause and the innate criminality of any policy of betrayal [were] sound enough justification" for Bonar Law to support any degree of resistance to home rule. Thus Evans believes that it was perfectly feasible for Law and other Tories to use "unconstitutional means to secure a constitutional end." Indeed, he goes on to make the rather amazing claim that "there was an underlying constitutionality to Conservative agitation; it was intended to force Asquith to do the honorable thing and call an election...." (21) One may wonder which part of British constitutional practice requires the party in power to do the "honorable thing" as that thing is defined by its political opposition? R. J. Q. Adams does not embrace any such eccentric constitutional theory, but he does wrap his narrative concerning Bonar Law's disturbing comments to the king and his alarming threats to amend the annual army act around an emphasis on the depth of the Conservative leader's sense of the despicable injustice that home rule would, in his view, unconstitutionally impose upon Ulster. (22) What's more, the distinguished constitutional scholar Corrine Comstock Weston has made a convincing case for the fact that Bonar Law was the very last member of the Conservative shadow cabinet to give up on the extremely perilous scheme to force an election by amending the army act in the House of Lords. (23)

How does one explain this fierce and potentially hazardous English Tory devotion to Ulster's cause? A daunting task, to be sure. Obviously, the schemes for resisting home rule presented by men like Law, Milner, and Long differed in many details, but each of these Conservative leaders shared a common conception of Ireland being what The Times called a truly "different world ..., almost a different time," (24) occupied by two distinct racial and religious entities. (25) Only one of these entities, Ulster, was accounted by most Tories to be a genuine civic community whose situation and wishes were worthy of serious consideration. Obviously, there were historical and cultural reasons for English Conservatives maintaining such a bias; some of these reasons might indeed have more than a patina of justification. Still, the fundamentalist nature of this perspective, encompassing two separate but unequal Irelands, can help to account for the politically extreme and constitutionally perilous nature of Conservative resistance to home rule. When one considers that at least some leaders of the Conservative party were apparently willing to challenge the constitutional authority of a legally elected government by abolishing the lawful standing of the army and by supporting, overtly as well as covertly, armed resistance by citizens representing approximately 5 percent of the population of the UK, one must conclude that something other than political maneuvering and rational calculation were involved.

Paul Bew, with a view to reconstructing the home-rule debate and providing a more comprehensible account of the Edwardian clash between the "`two traditions of Ireland,'" has published a fresh appraisal of the impact of ideology on the Irish question. (26) Bew's analysis is impressive and often convincing, but his transparently disdainful dismissal of Joseph Lee's contention that Ulster Unionist resistance to home rule was grounded on a sense of race hatred and racial superiority does not ring entirely true. Ideas about the importance of race and its effect on character as well as history retained considerable power at the beginning of the twentieth century. Not only imperialist but much anti-imperialist writing was filled with descriptions of "inferior peoples," "lower orders," and "child races," into which categories Irish Catholics were regularly classified. (27) One need only read the respectable and influential Times to catch more than a hint of such views about the majority of Irish people, recounted under the editorial direction of Geoffrey Robinson, one of the most astute graduates of Milner's imperial kindergarten. (28) And whether The Times was the chicken or the egg, its multifarious disparagements and condescensions on the nature of Irish Catholics were widely echoed in English Tory circles.

At the heart of the Conservative case against home rule was the argument that so-called Irish nationalism was not a popular sentiment but a political machine "organized for petty rural tyranny and ... control of elections." (29) This machine, well lubricated by American money, was, according to L. S. Amery, a thoroughgoing anachronism, "a kind of Manchu Dynasty, representing a political and moral force that once was real, but ... is now only a tradition and a pretense ..., a tyranny acquired by reckless demagogy and maintained by backstairs cabals." (30) This leprous band of agitators, to quote another of Amery's comrades-in-rhetoric, pursued their "sordid motives screened by flocks of excitable, vain and ignorant dupes," who were "utterly devoid of moral courage and backbone...." (31) But if these pseudo-nationalists had been permitted, by virtue of a "corrupt political bargain" with the craven Liberal government, to cajole, trick, or frighten a morally deficient peasantry while maintaining the facade of political legitimacy, their masquerade, in the guise of national sentiment, was in truth nothing more than an "extended agrarian conspiracy," controlled by "the tyrannous hand of the United Irish League." (32)

This wretched state of affairs in southern Ireland left "respectable Roman Catholics and Protestants ... groaning to be free," but it was "inconceivable" that "a million persons differing in origin, in religion, in character, in habits, and, above all, in political outlook ... should be governed by the petty agitators of the United Irish League." (33)

Emphasis on the inherent ignorance of Irish peasant farmers and on the venal nature of their mendacious pseudo-nationalist masters, grasping only for political power and personal gain, reflected a widespread assumption of English Conservatives that the crux of the southern Irish question was agrarian rather than truly political. For example, Arthur Balfour, whose Nationality and Home Rule (London, 1913) was a considerable contribution to what must be recognized as a Tory triumph in the prewar polemical conflict, declared that home rule was "not a constitutional remedy ... [but] a Parliamentary device." F. S. Oliver, for one, warned his fellow Conservatives about the dangers of ignoring the ideological aspects of Irish nationalism, but, as usual in the case of the inventive and prescient Oliver, most of his intended audience was not listening. (34)

That same audience, however, was willing to assume that the conspiracy driving home rule did have religious as well as agrarian overtones. Indeed, for them, the religious dimensions of the crisis were overt and palatable. L. S. Amery warned ominously that religious persecution was bound to follow the imposition of home rule. (35) More to the point, there were doubtless many Ulster Protestants who believed in all sincerity that upon passage of a home-rule act, the pope would appear in a sedan chair, ordering auto-de-fes and the rounding up of Protestant children to be forcibly converted. Paul Bew uses the example of the notorious McCann case as a measure of popular Protestant fears about the dangers of religious oppression at the hands of an ascendant Catholic clergy, aided by the barbarous religious fanaticism of the Ancient Order of Hibernians. (36)

And as W. F. Monypenny noted in his classic essay on The Two Irish Nations, it really made no difference if such fears were exaggerated or irrational, for "the unreasonableness of a community is a political fact" that could not simply be dismissed out of hand. (37) (The Hibernians, it should be noted, originated in Ulster and grew rapidly in the early twentieth century under the leadership of the formidable, and for Protestants, menacing Belfast political boss Joe Devlin). (38)

R. J. Q. Adams has made a convincing argument that Bonar Law, at least, was untainted by anti-Catholic bias. Yet Law did believe, as he told Lord Riddell, that unionism was "a religious question" among Ulster people, who were "prepared to die for their convictions." (39) The Liberal Lord Crewe was more blunt, if less accurate. The "only sentiment involved" in Ulster unionism, he said, was "hatred of the Church in Rome." Even the high Tory Oliver agreed "that the main reason why Ulster is opposed to home rule is its blind, unreasoning religious jealousy and hatred." (40) Obviously, some Ulster unionists believed that they could stand their ground on the side of both God and country, so long as God was a Protestant and the country refused to recognize the validity of any plea emanating from Ireland's Catholic population.

What, then, was the nature of the Irish religious and ethnic element to which most English Conservatives did give credence? A good starting place for answering this question is Alvin Jackson's study of The Ulster Party. Jackson characterizes Ulster unionism as "a maverick entity" that from its inception had "little instinctive loyalty for British party institutions...." (41) Furthermore, after their disastrous drubbing in the election of 1906 many Tories dropped Ulster like a hot potato, and some of them, like then party leader Arthur Balfour, were "actively repelled" by the rough-and-ready crowd of "radicals at Belfast." (42) In December 1907, Balfour told Walter Long, president of the all-Ireland Union Defence League, that it was "out of the question" for him (Balfour) to deliver a speech to the UDL in Belfast. Two years later, when Earl Cawdor asked Balfour for advice and guidance about a speech that Cawdor was to give in Belfast, the crux of Balfour's response was to grouse about the difficulties that "these foolish northern Unionists" were causing. (43) During this period of declining sympathy between the British and Irish Unionist parties, the latter underwent an intensive local reorganization that made it both "more embattled and more self-reliant," with a concurrent diminishing of confidence in the efficacy of parliamentary maneuvers and debates. This revitalization of official Ulster unionism was accompanied by an evolution in leadership, from country squires like Colonel Edward Saunderson, who had commanded the struggle against Parnellism, to urban-based politicians like James Craig and William Moore. To be sure, this change had a distinctly populist and democratic flavor, but it also "implied a commitment to loyalist fundamentalism" reinforced by the simultaneous rejuvenation of the Orange Order, especially in cities like Belfast and Londonderry. As membership rolls in the Belfast Orange Order grew from 8,834 in 1908 to 18,800 in 1913, the powerful Ulster Unionist Council increasingly incorporated members of the Orange lodges into their command structure. (44)

According to Jackson, Ulster unionism was being transformed from a political party into "an army of resistance" well before the passage of the parliament act or the reintroduction of home rule. Certainly, Bonar Law's "new style" helped to restore "a passionate but transient unity" with English Tories; still, Craig and company took no orders from London and left Conservative leaders "little room to manoeuvre." (45) Indeed, plans for arming Orangemen, unbeknownst to the English, were in the works as early as November 1910, when the Ulster Unionist Council set up a secret defense committee, one of whose members, the soon to be famous gunrunner Fred Crawford, wrote to a number of munitions firms asking for quotes on twenty thousand rifles and a million rounds of ammunition. By the summer of 1911 the defense committee had purchased two thousand weapons from UUC funds. (46) As The Times proudly and accurately proclaimed in September 1911, Ulstermen were given to "an instinctive belief in the remedy of arms and an instinctive readiness to resort to it." Thus for "The Thunderer" the landing of twenty-five thousand rifles and three million rounds of ammunition at Larne in April 1914 was not a panicky response to the government's abortive threat to use the army to suppress the Ulster Volunteer Force; it was a triumph of planning and organization by willful men determined to stifle constitutional procedures through the threat of armed resistance. (47)

Did English Conservative leaders offer resistance to the martial propensity of their northern Irish clients? How could they? On the contrary, some Tories were positively encouraging. Leopold Amery pledged, echoing Bonar Law's famous Blenheim speech, to support any measure "necessary to prevent Ulster from being crushed." Lord Milner vowed that in the event of "war" in Ireland, he would not "feel satisfied to wave my arms ... in the air & cry "`how dreadful.'" As he told Henry Wilson, "the Unionists of England would soon have to pass from words to deeds." (48) Indeed, the "not so scrupulous conspiracy" that Milner advocated in November 1913 was effectively set down, at Milner's direction, by the ubiquitous Amery in the form of a detailed scheme for justifying any rebellious action by Ulstermen as arising from "those fundamental principles of our constitutional law which make the responsibility for maintenance of the king's peace rest not upon the crown or its ministers and officials, but upon the local magistrates ... and ordinary citizens." Thus, the argument ran, a provisional committee of magistrates "enjoying the confidence of the whole community" could act against "evilly-disposed persons ... interfering with the committee." Of course, Amery's "whole community" excluded northern Catholics, who were apparently, ipso facto, "evilly-disposed persons." (49)

An objection might be raised that schemes devised by Milner and his minions could not really be counted as emerging from the Conservative party since the former proconsul was not even a member of the shadow cabinet and had moved out to the periphery of party politics. Still, any plan contrived by or connived in by Milner was extremely important. He was the guru of the radical right, and since the official party machinery had no more control over the actions of the Ulsterites than Milner had, and since Milner had no official responsibilities, he could push forward whatever schemes he devised without reservation and with as much expectation of Ulster Unionist cooperation as any formal party leader might have had. Indeed, Alvin Jackson has noted that even Sir Edward Carson, who "had raised loyalist militancy with a view to strengthening his advocacy," had by early 1914 himself become "the servant of the militants." (50)

And what of Walter Long, a bellwether of the shadow cabinet? Only the judicious caution of Long's son Harvey, an infantry officer at the Curragh, dissuaded him from personally intervening in the so-called "mutiny" of cavalry officers in March 1914. (51) And throughout the period that Milner and company were devising plots, Long was receiving grateful letters from Sir Edward Carson and James Craig as well as special certificates of authorization from the imperial grand master of the Provincial Grand Orange Lodge of Ulster which would apparently have allowed him to pass through Ulster Volunteer Force "lines." He was also privy, via Milner, to secret documents outlining the UVF war plans and order of battle. (52) Interestingly, in the wake of such cloak-and-dagger operations, Long was also writing to an unidentified Liberal correspondent, noting Ulster's "amazing ... patience and restraint." "How long," he asked, "are they to be subjected to their present miseries?" (No evidence is extant to indicate that his Liberal friend responded by asking, in all honesty and curiosity: "To what miseries has Ulster thus far been subjected?") In any case, Long, obviously in a state of grave anxiety, pledged his willingness to "give up every party advantage ... [to] secure peace," but concluded despondently: "I am sure ... the prospects of Civil War are far better than they have ever been and that little short of a miracle can now save that country." (53)

And what of Bonar Law? In his official history of Conservatism from Balfour to Baldwin, John Ramsden has ventured to say that as leader of the opposition Law "approved and supported the destruction of both the practice and authority of parliament." And Law's first biographer, Lord Blake, reticent as he was concerning his subject's activities during the home-rule crisis, admitted that Law went "far to break the conventions upon which parliamentary democracy is based." (54) R. J. Q. Adams has gone much deeper than any previous commentator, providing a lucid picture of Law's tortured struggle to maintain "the fighting spirit among the people," while seeking some exclusionary amendment that would satisfy Ulster and be impossible for the Liberals to turn down, however fiercely John Redmond and the Nationalists might protest. But be that as it may, some of Law's activities and statements, like his persistent threat to amend the annual army act, were constitutionally questionable as well as politically dangerous; others seem, frankly, odd. For example, at his secret meeting with Asquith in October 1913, Law told the prime minister that Welsh disestablishment was "more important to `a very much larger' number of our members in the House of Commons than home rule." (55) If this was so, did it mean that the Tories, who were vowing never to abandon Ulster in her struggle to escape home rule, would be even more ready to fight to maintain the Church of Wales? And again, a week prior to his meeting with the prime minister, Bonar Law outlined his vision of the perfect solution to the Irish difficulty to Lord Lansdowne: after the Unionists won an election, they should immediately thereafter "pass a redistribution act which, by reducing the number of Nationalist members, would finally kill [the] H.R. agitation." Presumably, what Bonar Law meant was that by statutorily reducing the Nationalist party in parliament to a rump, all future demonstrations of fraudulent Irish nationalism would be circumvented. (56) Did he really believe that with a victory at the polls Unionists could magically solve the Irish puzzle, allowing Ulster Protestants to remain free and ascendant, Catholic Irishmen to be liberated from the Nationalist party, the United Irish League, the Hibernians, and Sinn Fein, and everybody to live happily ever after?

What, then, may be concluded about this most complex, contentious, and labyrinthine question? When Bonar Law, combining what was no doubt a true belief in Ulster's cause with what some at least have termed canny party politics, (57) determined to instigate a showdown with the Orange card, he incorporated the general Tory notion of "two Irish nations," separate and, to be sure, unequal, into his plan for addressing the Irish crisis. Like most of his fellow Conservatives, he had come to perceive of Catholic Ireland as a lost cause so long as it was held in thrall by a corrupt and mendacious band of pseudo-nationalists. At the same time he believed that Ulster Unionists were in large part driven by a deep sense of loyalty to the UK and sincere affection for its traditions and ideals. As events unfolded, his emphasis shifted from opposing home rule, which he did not believe would work under the sort of regime venal Nationalist politicos would establish, to saving Ulster from the operation of home rule through partition. In the course of the ensuing struggle the Conservatives' Ulster Unionist allies proved to be both a vital source of strength and an enduring liability. The Ulsterites' strength lay in an unwavering commitment to their own unique conception of the sacred principle of union, i.e., continued ascendancy within their own narrowly conceived national community; their liability arose from the inconvenient fact that by 1911 activist Ulstermen were not only willing to abandon their southern Irish unionist brethren but also far more ready to take their lead from militants of the Orange Order than from English Conservative politicians.

Hence, the Tories were effectively dragged behind an Ulster tiger, holding with a death grip to its tail, constantly repeating the self-assuring nostrum that since this admittedly wild beast loved the same things they loved, it would never take them anyplace they did not wish to go. But, in fact, after 1912 the Ulster Unionist leadership would accept the Conservatives as allies only on the basis of their continued indulgence in inflammatory utterances as well as a blank check for all forms of disorder, threatened or real. Despite the ensuing and apparently open-ended support from English Tories, Ulster's leaders remained unalterably suspicious as to the true depth of the Conservative party's commitment to Ulster's sacred cause and increasingly contemptuous of the usefulness of parliamentary processes as a means of rescuing the north from a Dublin parliament. Bonar Law discovered that no amount of pulling and tugging could stop the Ulster tiger from running amuck. He could and did urge forward the anti-home-rule forces, but he could not mark the targets nor call the shots because these forces were not his to command. He therefore held on and, as John Ramsden has noted, watched with apparent fatalism "his country drift into civil war." (58)

Patricia Jalland has asserted that the Liberals were foolish, in the wake of Orange resistance to Gladstonian home-rule bills, not to have made some special provisions for Ulster. (59) But Conservatives seem to have been at least as foolish in denying not just the legitimacy but the existence of authentic Irish nationalism. At the same time their unrelenting advocacy of Ulster's cause, based as it was on a self-serving, self-deceiving misconception of real Orange sentiments, helped to strengthen and sustain a northern unionist mythology as deep and prideful as any arising from the "blood sacrifice" of Easter 1916. (60) The continuing clash of these two violent sanctifying mythologies undermined unionism as a viable political perspective and continues to do no end of damage to the material and spiritual well-being of northern Ireland. The policies and actions of the Edwardian Conservative party made an important and unedifying contribution to the long-standing negation that constituted twentieth-century Ulster politics.

(1) Peter Clarke, Hope and Glory: Britain, 1900-1990 (London, 1996), 2.

(2) Leopold S. Amery, The Case against Home Rule (London, 1912), 119.

(3) Paul Bew, Ideology and the Irish Question: Ulster Unionism and Irish Nationalism, 1912-1916 (Oxford, 1994), x.

(4) Milner to Oliver, 25 November 1913, Milner Papers/13 (MP), Bodleian Library, Oxford; Long's Memorandum, 22 July 1913, Add. MS 62416, Walter Long Papers (WLP), British Library (BL), London.

(5) See, for example, John Fair's recent article, "F.S. Oliver, Alexander Hamilton, and the `American Plan' for Resolving Britain's Constitutional Crises, 1903-1921," Twentieth-Century British History 10:1 (1999), 1-26. Oliver was also a hero in Fair's book on British Inter-Party Conferences (Oxford, 1980). For the general topic of federalism, see John Kendle, Ireland and the Federal Solution: The Debate over the United Kingdom Constitution, 1870-1921 (Kingston and Montreal, 1989).

(6) Oliver to Lord Northcliffe, 10 November 1910, Add. MS 62165A, Northcliffe Papers (NP), BL.

(7) E. E. H. Green, The Crisis of Conservatism: The Politics, Economics, and Ideology of the British Conservative Party, 1880-1914 (London, 1995), 267-97. See also Richard Murphy, "Faction in the Conservative Party and the Home Rule Crisis," History 40 (1986), 222-34.

(8) Long's Memorandum (Confidential), 20 November 1923, Add. MS 62416, WLP, BL; Milner to Oliver, 12 November 1913, MP/13.

(9) Milner to Oliver, 30 November 1913 MP/13.

(10) Northcliffe to Lord Robert Cecil, 22 November 1910, Add. MS 62311, NP, BL; H.A. Gwynne to Walter Long, [Nov. 1910], Add. MS 62415, WLP, BL.

(11) "Ditchers" were a group of right-wing peers who were determined to fight the parliament act to the last ditch; "Hedgers" were those who, while opposing the act, sought some constitutional compromise; "Rats" were Conservative lords and bishops who voted for the parliament act in order to avoid a constitutional crisis over mass creation of new Liberal peers. See J. Sandars to Balfour, n August 1911, Add. MS 49767, Arthur Balfour Papers (AJBP), BL, for the expression of bitter feelings against the "Rats" or "Judas group."

(12) Long to Balfour (copy), 29 September 1911, Add. MS 62403, WLP, BL.

(13) R. J. Q. Adams, Bonar Law (London, 1999), 101; John Kendle, Ireland and Federal Solution, 152; Frans Coetzee, For Party and Country: Nationalism and the Dilemmas of Popular Conservatism in Edwardian England (Oxford, 1990), 154.

(14) "Notes Made at Glendoe Lodge," 22 August 1911, 62/95-96, Dawson Papers (DP), Bodleian Library, Oxford.

(15) Bew, Ideology and the Irish Question, 24. For an example of such enthusiasm, see "The Taxes on Food," Memorandum by Hugh and Robert Cecil, 6 March 1912, Add. MS 62165A, NP, BL.

(16) Stephen Evans, "The Conservatives and the Redefinition of Unionism, 1912-221," Twentieth-Century British History 9:1 (1998), 15.

(17) Green, Crisis of Conservatism, 303.

(18) Ibid., 304; Jeremy Smith, "Bluff, Bluster, and Brinkmanship: Andrew Bonar Law and the Third Home Rule Bill," Historical Journal 36:1 (1993), 178.

(19) Smith, "Bluff, Bluster, and Brinkmanship," 171; Bonar Law to Times, 8 December 1911.

(20) Amery to Bonar Law, 20 January 1912, 25/1/43, Bonar Law Papers (BLP), House of Lords Record Office, London; H. Wilson's "Diaries," Friday, 12 April 1912, Henry Wilson Papers (HWP), Imperial War Museum (IWM), London.

(21) Evans, "Conservatives and Redefinition of Unionism," 11, 13-14.

(22) Adams, Bonar Law, 125-26, 147-53. But see also Brendan Clifford, Lovat Fraser's Tour of Ireland in 1923 (Belfast, 1992), 5, who argues that Albert Venn Dicey justified resistance to home rule on the grounds that in "the absence of a written constitution ... social opinion functions as a constitution."

(23) "Lord Selborne, Bonar Law and the `Tory Revolt'" in Lords of Parliament, Studies, 1714-1914, ed. R. W. Davis (Stanford, 1995), 163-77.

(24) "The Problem of Ulster," Times, 25 September 1911, 7.

(25) For examples, see W.F. Monypenny, The Two Irish Nations: An Essay on Home Rule (London, 1913), 65; R. H. Murphy, "The Evolution of the Ulsterman," Quarterly Review (January 1914), 115.

(26) Bew, Ideology and the Irish Question, xvi.

(27) The standard studies of anti-Irish attitudes in Britain are L. P. Curtis, Anglo-Saxons and Celts (Bridgeport, Conn., 1968) and Apes and Angels: The Irish in Victorian Caricature (Washington, D.C., 1971). Curtis' work has been roundly criticized by S. W. Gilley, "English Attitudes towards the Irish in England, 1780-1900," in Colin Holmes, ed., Immigrants and Minorities in British Society (New York, 1978), 81-110.

(28) See Thomas C. Kennedy, "`Hereditary Enemies': Home Rule, Unionism, and The Times, 1910-14," Journalism History 27:1 (Spring 2001), 34-42.

(29) Amery, Case against Home Rule, 119.

(30) Ibid., 7, 9.

(31) G. S. Penfold, The Home Rule Movement and Irish Revolutionary Agitators since 1838 (London, 1912), 4; Fred Wrench to Lord Northcliffe, 9 December 1912, Add. MS 62165A, NP, BL.

(32) Patrick Buckland, Ulster Unionism and the Origins of Northern Ireland, 1886-1922 (Dublin, 1973), 10-11; Fred Wrench to Northcliffe, 8 February 1911, Add. MS 62165A, NP, BL.

(33) Wrench to Northcliffe, ibid.; Amery, Case against Home Rule, 117-18.

(34) Quoted by Alan J. Ward, The Irish Constitutional Tradition (Washington, D.C., 1994), 53; F. S. Oliver, The Alternatives to Civil War (London, 1913), 54.

(35) Amery, Case against Home Rule, 114.

(36) See Bew, Ideology and the Irish Question, 31-34, 40, regarding this notorious instance of a Catholic father, in response to a church decree declaring that all marriages involving Catholics not solemnized in the Roman rite were invalid, spiriting his children away from his estranged Protestant wife.

(37) Monypenny, Two Irish Nations, 67.

(38) See Alvin Jackson, Ireland, 1798-1998 (Oxford, 1999), 155.

(39) Quoted by Alfred Gollin, The Observer and J.L. Garvin, 1908-1914 (Oxford, 1960), 389.

(40) Quoted by Bew, Ideology and the Irish Question, 29; Oliver to Geoffrey Robinson (Dawson), 27 September 1911, MS Acc. 7726/84, Oliver Papers, National Library of Scotland, quoted by Kendle, Ireland and the Federal Solution, 132.

(41) Alvin Jackson, Colonel Edward Saunderson: Land and Loyalty in Victorian England (Oxford, 1995), 243. Colonel Saunderson was the leader of a group of Ulster Protestant MPs who insisted on the creation of a distinct Irish Unionist parliamentary party in 1886.

(42) Jackson, Ulster Party, 299-300, 311. Much of what follows is drawn from Jackson's analysis of the Ulster Unionist party between 1905 and 1911, ibid., 284-321.

(43) Balfour to Long, 4 December 1907, Add. MS 62403, WLP, BL; Balfour to Cawdor, 7 January 1909, Add. MS 49709, AJBP, BL.

(44) Jackson, Ulster Party, 284-326; Bew, Ideology and the Irish Question, 46; J. R. Archer, "The Unionist Tradition in Ireland," Eire-Ireland 15:2 (Summer 1980), 57.

(45) Jackson, Ulster Party, 313-20; Ireland, 223-26; Green, Crisis of Conservatism, 300-01.

(46) Jackson, Ulster Party, 315-17; Ireland, 235-36.

(47) Times, 25 September 1911, 7.

(48) Amery, Case against Home Rule, 128; Milner to Oliver, 20 October 1913, MP/13; Wilson's "Diaries," 14 November 1913, HWP, IWM. See also Bew, Ideology and the Irish Question, 52-53.

(49) Amery's "Memorandum" [May 1914], MP/157, 120-25; "Supplementary Memorandum," 19 May 1914, ibid., 126-29. See also Milner's "Private and Confidential Notes," 20 April 1914, ibid., 96-97; Milner to Oliver, 16 July 1914, MP/13.

(50) Jackson, Ireland, 239.

(51) Lieutenant Long warned his father that any implication that the army was acting on behalf of the Unionist Party had to be avoided. Harvey Long to Walter Long, 26, 27 March 1914, Add. MS 62417, WLP, BL.

(52) Carson to Long (telegram), 21 January 1914, Certificate of Authorisation, Imperial Grand Master, 10 February 1914; "Secret Notes" ("for your personal information, from 34, Portland Place-M."), 3 April 1914, Add. MS 62417, WLP, BL.

(53) Long to George[?], 11 June 1914, Add. MS 62417, WLP, BL.

(54) John Ramsden, The Age of Balfour and Baldwin, 1902-1940 (London, 1978), 85; Robert Blake, The Unknown Prime Minister (London, 1955), 130.

(55) Law to Lansdowne, 15 October 1913, with enclosed "Notes of Conversation with P.M.," quoted by Adams, Bonar Law, 133-34.

(56) Law to Lansdowne, 8 October 1913, with appendix, cited ibid., 130.

(57) Smith, "Bluff, Bluster, and Brinkmanship," 162, 165; Evans, "Redefinition of Unionism," 14-16.

(58) Ramsden, Age of Balfour and Baldwin, 85.

(59) Patricia Jalland, The Liberals and Ireland: The Ulster Question and British Politics to 1914 (Brighton, 1980), 48-49, 69, 117-18, 261-62.

(60) For insightful, if somewhat depressing, consideration of this theme, see Alvin Jackson, Ireland, 238-41, and "Irish Unionism," in The Making of Modern Irish History, ed. George Boyce and Alan O'Day (London, 1996), 120-21.

THOMAS C. KENNEDY has been professor of history at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville since 1979 and has taught in the History Department there for more than three decades. Besides Anglo-Irish relations, his research interests include late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Britain, especially the issues of peace and war. He has published numerous articles in scholarly journals. He has published numerous articles in scholarly journals and is the author of British Quakerism, 1860-1920: The Transformation of a Religious Community (2001).
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Author:Kennedy, Thomas C.
Publication:Eire-Ireland: a Journal of Irish Studies
Geographic Code:4EUIR
Date:Sep 22, 2001
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