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artifices proved in vain, and Mr. Gladstone's own measure was rejected in Mr. Gladstone's own Parliament by a majority of thirty. At any other time and under any other Premier the Ministry would have resigned. In face, however, of the fact that the present Parliament was only elected six months ago, and elected on a programme in which the Repeal of the Union was not even mentioned, Mr. Gladstone has declined to resign, and has appealed to the constituencies. It is with the answer that should be given to this appeal that I have to deal.
If ever there was a case in which the dead might be left to bury their dead, it is that of Mr. Gladstone's Home Rule Bill. I have dwelt upon its history simply and solely because it is necessary to bear this history in mind in order to dispel a delusion which is likely to produce a certain effect on the coming elections. In the organs of the Ministry one meets frequently with the assumption that whether Home Rule is right or wrong, wise or unwise, it is part of the Liberal platform, and is therefore certain to be carried at no distant date. Even granting the assumption, the conclusion may well be disputed. But the assumption is utterly without foundation. Up to the present time Home Rule has never even been submitted for acceptance to the Liberal party, and still less accepted by them as an article of the Liberal creed. It is Mr. Gladstone, not the party he leads, whom Home Rule can claim as a convert. So much is this the case, that if Mr. Gladstone were removed from the arena of politics there are not fifty Liberal members who would vote for such
measure as he has proposed ; not one of his own colleagues, except Mr. John Morley, who would make himself responsible for its authorship. Indeed, if Mr. Gladstone had not declared for Home Rule, the assertion that the Liberal party was in favour of Home Rule would have been treated, till only the other day, as a malignant misrepresentation. No doubt the Liberal party, as a body, have not repudiated Mr. Gladstone's leadership on account of his conversion to Home Rule. That they should not have done so shows how the party has become demoralised, how Liberalism bas grown to represent names and individuals rather than ideas or principles. But the fact that the Liberals as a body still remain faithful to Mr. Gladstone does not prove that they are in favour of Home Rule. All it shows is that they know Mr. Gladstone's influence to be essential to the maintenance of their political ascendency, and that sooner than abandon that ascendency they are prepared to support whatever Mr. Gladstone proposes. Whether Home Rule is or is not to be adopted formally as part and parcel of the Liberal programme depends entirely upon the result of the coming election. If, as I believe and hope, the result shows that the country declines absolutely to entertain the idea of any Repeal of the Union, then we shall hear no more of Home Rule being an accepted article
of the Liberal programme. Whether this result is so shown depends mainly upon the action of the moderate Liberals.
Now, preaching to the converted is a waste of labour. I may take it for granted that the Liberals to whom this appeal of mine is once more addressed share with me the view that the maintenance of the Union is a matter of paramount importance. Granted this, it follows that there is no sacrifice we should not be prepared to make in order to secure this object, supposing its attainment to be possible. The arguments on which the partisans of the Ministry rely with most confidence is that after what has come and gone the maintenance of the Union is no longer within the limits of possibility; that we who are struggling against its disruption are only retarding for a brief period the accomplishment of an inevitable event; and that, as the cost of our so retarding it, we are embittering the future relations between England and Ireland, and are breaking up the Liberal party. Considering that the main difficulty in upholding the Union is due to the action of Mr. Gladstone, there is an almost sublime impudence in the supporters of the Ministry alleging that difficulty as a reason for our accepting their policy. But the assumption so far rests on assertion only. No rational person doubts that as a matter of fact Great Britain can uphold the Union by force of arms if she is so minded. It is more than doubtful whether the Irish Nationalists are prepared to fight for a repeal of the Union; if they do fight they are certain to be defeated. It is, therefore, idle to say that we have no choice except to acquiesce in the severance of the Union. If we do acquiesce it will be because we are not willing to exercise our power of resistance, and this, in as far as the argument in question has any meaning at all, is what it really means. It is worth while then to say something as to the reasons why it is alleged that we should never, in practice, be able, or willing—for it comes to the same thing in the end—to exercise our undoubted power.
We are told, then, by our self-constituted mentors that it is impossible in this age-when the triumph of oppressed nationalities has become the order of the day-to resist the demands of the Irish nation; that the moral sense of the community will never tolerate any prolonged exercise of coercion ; that the British democracy is at one with the Irish democracy; and that, even if this were not so, the Home Rule contingent can in the present division of parties render all Parliamentary government impossible, and thereby compel England in the end to grant Home Rule as the price of securing the control of her own affairs. Even if we shared the belief that Home Rule must be granted sooner or later, we should say, in the interest of the United Kingdom, the later the better. But the belief rests upon assertions which, to say the least, are open to dispute. In the first place, before you can claim for Ireland the status of an oppressed nationality, you must show that there is such a thing in existence as an Irish nation, and that this nation, admitting its existence, labours under oppression. Now, as a matter of fact, there never has been an Irish nation. There never has been, there is not in Ireland now, å united people, having a language, a religion, or a history of their own. All you can say is that some two-thirds, at the outside, of the population of Ireland would possibly prefer having a local government. The remaining third--and the third, too, which in industry, prosperity, and intelligence immeasurably outweighs the other two_is passionately averse to any severance of the compact under which Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom. The plea, therefore, of nationality falls to the ground. The plea of oppression is even weaker. I confess that I am sceptical as to whether, after all, Ireland was worse treated in bygone times than other countries in a like position. In public as in private life it is generally people's own fault if they are the victims of perpetual wrong-doing at the hands of everybody with whom they come into contact. Moreover, even admitting that Ireland has cause for complaint as to the treatment she may have received from England in days of old, there is obviously a statute of limitations for offences of such a nature. There is no possible redress for wrongs whose victims and whose perpetrators have alike faded away into the far-off past. For the last hundred years Ireland has had no possible ground to complain of oppression on the part of England. She has enjoyed the same civil and religious rights as those possessed by England. As popular liberties have been developed in England, they have been developed in Ireland also, and at the present moment there is in Ireland, as there has been for two generations, absolute liberty of political and public life. Agitators against the Union in the Southern States, Italian sympathisers in Nice and Savoy, Scandinavian propagandists in Schleswig, would be only too grateful for a tenth part of the immunity enjoyed by the Irish Nationalists under the so-called tyranny of the Saxon oppressor.
Limits of space preclude my entering at any length on this branch of the subject. I think, however, it would not be difficult to prove that the Repeal of the Union is not really desired by any decisive majority of the population of Ireland. It would be still more easy to prove that the concession of this desire, if it exists, would not promote the welfare or the interests of Ireland. But I attach the less value to any demonstration of the kind, as I admit freely that even if I entertained an opposite opinion, and believed that separation from England was ardently desired by a large majority of Irishmen, and would prove a blessing instead of a curse to Ireland, I should not waver for one moment in my view as to the paramount necessity of upholding the Union. After all, the whole is greater than the less. We, each of us, in as far as we possess any political influence, hold that influence in trust for the United Kingdom. We have not the right, even if we had the wish, to benefit any one part of that kingdom to the detriment of the whole. If, as I hold, and as those to whom I address myself hold also, the maintenance of the Union is essential to the well-being, the greatness, and even the existence of the British Empire, then it is idle to talk to us about the wish of Ireland for Home Rule, or of the advantages she might possibly derive from the Repeal of the Union.
If, then, in order to maintain the Union it is necessary to employ coercion, I fail to see why we should deem it necessary to find excuses for its employment. I fail also to see why we should assume that the democracy are incapable of following a very simple process of argument. If they deem it their interest and their duty to uphold the Union, and if the employment of coercion can be shown to be essential to the maintenance of the Union, then I feel convinced the democracy will have as little scruple about employing coercion as the most high-handed of autocrats. There is not a population in the world so wedded to what I may call the commonplaces of Liberalism, so imbued with respect for the stock shibboleths of democracy, as that of the United States. Yet the moment this population awoke to the fact that their Union was endangered, they flung all their favourite theories and platitudes to the winds, and sanctioned the enforcement of such a system of coercion throughout the Southern States as the most fanatical of Orangemen has never dreamt of applying to the Irish secessionists. It is all very well to deelare beforehand that the British democracy will never consent to any course of action; but, in so far as my observation goes, our democracy are very like other Englishmen, fully determined to hold their own, and in no wise particular as to the means by wbich they so hold it. Moreover, though words go a long way with us, there is amongst Englishmen of all classes a certain innate respect for sober fact and plain common sense. *No Coercion’ is undoubtedly a good election cry; but when the masses learn, as they cannot fail to learn before long, that coercion means nothing more nor less than the enforcement of the law, the protection of individual liberty, and the prevention of brutal crime and savage outrage, they will be the first to call out for its employment. Humanitarianism, both for good and bad, is the attribute of the well-to-do classes whose lives are easy and cultured. A morbid dread of inflicting pain and a distaste for rough and ready modes of punishment are not characteristic of the masses who toil and labour.
The objection that if we refuse to grant Home Rule, the Home Rulers will make our system of Parliamentary government unworkable, rests entirely on the assumption that the British Parliament is willing to consent to its own extinction. If, as there is good grounds to hope, the coming elections result in the return of a decisive majority elected on a Unionist platform, this majority, so long as they remain united, can always defeat the Separatist minority. Given the will, there is no difficulty in putting down wilful obstruction, and if the Home Rulers attempted to repeat in the new Parliament the tactics which they adopted in the last Parliament but one, they would soon discover, to their cost, that though the resources of obstruction may not be exhausted, the resources of repression are still farther from exhaustion.
Thus all the arguments by which Liberals who disapprove of Home Rule are exhorted not to manifest their disapproval, on the ground that the Repeal of the Union is a foregone conclusion, are shown to be assumptions only. The future still lies within our own hands, and it is for us to decide whether the Union shall be dissolved or maintained. By our recent legislation the ultimate appeal in all supreme issues lies to the masses. It is in the end, by their verdict, that the Union must stand or fall. Now it would be idle to imagine that the masses as a rule have any very distinct or intelligent conviction of their own as to the merits or demerits of the controversy on which they are called to give judgment. It is our duty, as Liberal Unionists, to bring home to them the conviction that we hold ourselves. We have many cards in our favour.
The fact that the Home Rule Bill has been rejected by a decisive majority in the most democratic Parliament England has ever known, and that the opposition to Home Rule is supported by all the most honoured and trusted members of the popular party, with the solitary exception of Mr. Gladstone, cannot fail to influence public opinion. Then, too, we have on our side the instincts of a ruling race; the religious sympathies which unite the men of Ulster with the Protestants of Great Britain; the anti-Irish prejudices which prevail so largely in our working classes. But all these influences cannot be relied on with any confidence, unless we can convince the masses that the question at issue is one of life and death to England, one in comparison with which all political and party issues sink into insignificance. In order to bring home this conviction we must practise what we preach, we must teach by example as well as precept. And this brings me to the practical application of the various considerations I have endeavoured to bring before my fellowUnionists.
Let us look at facts as they are; not as we could wish them to be. Now, as a matter of hard fact, the real strength and backbone of the opposition to Home Rule lies in the Conservative party. The Conservatives have voted as one man against the repeal of the Union, and of the majority by whom the Home Rule Bill was thrown out, over three-fourths were contributed by the Opposition. No candid observer can doubt that the Conservatives have gained ground very materially in public opinion by their attitude on this question. Their conduct since they were turned out of office has