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Chamberlain and the battle for Home Rule.

CHAMBERLAIN, like most British politicians, both then and today, was a unionist. He believed that the rights of minorities, such as his own Unitarian community, were best protected under the rule of law and parliamentary monarchy that had developed in the wake of the British civil wars of the 17th century.

He argued that the Union had brought prosperity, tolerance and justice to Scotland, Wales and Ulster, and he passionately believed that, with better governance, the whole of Ireland could be significantly improved as well.

This may, with retrospect, appear to be tinged with a certain imperial Anglo-Saxon racism, but a belief in the rightness of the British political, economic and legal system was shared even by most radical politicians.

Socialists, like Keir Hardie, may have wanted to see social reform and greater representation for the poor, but even they did not believe that the British constitution should be overthrown, merely that it should reflect the wishes of all the people of the Union.

Under Chamberlain's leadership, Irish Liberal Unionists accomplished greater land reforms than Gladstone had granted, set up elected local government, and finally a land purchase scheme that bought out the absentee English landlords and offered payment schemes for the Irish peasant that gave them the land they hungered for in exchange for a few years' rent.

When the demand for Home Rule seemed to threaten civil war in 1914, Chamberlain and his colleagues were no longer there to resist Ulster's resort to sectarian politics, as they had done in 1886 and 1893, but moderate voices still prevailed.

It took the blunders of the 1916 Easter Rising to fatally undermine the Union with Ireland, and one can hardly blame Chamberlain for that.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 3, 2014
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