Liberals and the Home Rule issue, November 1885-July 1886 : the leaders and the rank and file, with special reference to certain localities
This study of the Irish Home Rule crisis of 1885-6 arises from a sense of the limitations of an exclusively 'high political' approach. It seeks to show how Liberal policy makers related to their supporters in Britain, and how the rank and file both influenced and responded to their leaders' initiatives. Within the framework of a national portrait, certain areas receive special attention: much of the evidence relates to the traditional Liberal strongholds of south-west England, west Yorkshire, Tyneside, south-central Wales and the Birmingham and Edinburgh regions. This dissertation seeks an answer to the question: how was it that, in 1886, a majority of Liberals came to accept the idea of Home Rule, which was hitherto the property of an uninfluential radical minority? Chapter One places the espousal of Home Rule by the Liberal leader, Gladstone, in a broad chronological context and explores the roots of the uneasy relationship between British Liberalism and Irish nationalism. This theme is further developed in Chapters Two and Three. The fourth chapter examines Liberal perceptions of Ireland as a strategic and imperial problem; and a related issue, the neglected controversy over Irish representation at Westminster, is the subject of the fifth. Chapter Six reviews the strategies devised by Liberal supporters and opponents of Home Rule in their efforts to generate a popular appeal for their respective causes. Chapter Seven aims to rescue from historiographical neglect the almost universally unpopular Land purchase Bill which accompanied Gladstone's Home Rule proposals. The remaining chapters deal with rank and file perceptions of the party leaders and with constituency pressures upon parliamentarians. It will be argued that the unfamiliarity of Home Rule, and the conflicting passions which its elevation aroused, enhanced the role of personalities. For most Liberals, traditional loyalties - especially to the charismatic figure of Gladstone - were the decisive factor in 1886.