‘The Liverpool and Southwark Elections’ by A Christian Democrat (21 February, 1880)

The following is an editorial that appeared in the ‘People’s Journal’ under the name ‘A Christian Democrat’. The discussion here is a further reaction to the Liberal loss in the Liverpool by-election. In the lead up to the 1880 general election, this editorial urges the Liberals to put forward a strong message and provide an alternative to the failed and costly foreign policy of the incumbent Conservatives. As is often the case, the use of the words ‘England’ and ‘Britain’ are revealing of the mindset of Scottish Liberals in this time before the growth of the Scottish home rule movement.

Sir,—I venture to say that the time has now come when our Liberal leaders ought not to rest contented with fault-finding. They should lay before the county a bold and sagacious—a Christian foreign policy. I do not think that when Sir Stafford Northcote tells us that he is about twenty millions behind, the country will be greatly surprised. The Government will say that one month of European war would have cost far more. They will plead that they have preserved peace to England, and that in passing through a crisis so unexampled they have done well to increase the efficiency of our forces. They will urge that Russia, by stirring up mischief in the East, had to be met; that the Afghan war, vexing and costly as it is, was needful to show Asiatic Princes how vain a thing it is to oppose the power of England, and how dangerous to coquet with our enemies. In the interests of 200,000,000 of Indian peoples it was needful, at all costs, to show our power when it was defied. Future peace, civilisation, and prosperity to a fourth of the human race depend on the unquestioned stability of the British power in India. So the Government will reason. The men in Liverpool and in Southwark are undoubtedly influenced by these considerations. Admitting the mistakes of the Government, they see no alternative policy offered by the Opposition. They hear only that England is wrong—always in the wrong; but this they hear from men who never yet had a good word to say for any war except the cruel and bloody civil war of America.

Mr Gladstone alone, of all our leaders, took a great and statesmanlike view of the duty of Britain. He did not rest with fault-finding. He proposed a great, wise, and glorious policy. He advised Parliament to fulfil its duties. By the Treaty of Paris, which cost our country so dear, Turkey was bound to set justly to the races subject to her sway. Notoriously she had violated that Treaty by unheard of misrule and villainous injustice. Mr Gladstone called upon the British Power to assert itself, to do its duty. He proposed to sail the fleet to Constantinople to demand the enforcement to the Treaty of Paris. He asked Europe to vindicate the European Treaty, and to call the Pachas [Pashas] to justice on pain of dismissing them out of Europe bag and baggage. The Tories nobody expected to support a policy like this; it was in favour of freedom and liberty. But, sir, I say the responsibility of refusing to adopt this policy rests on the Liberal party itself. Lord Derby, of course, would neither take the responsibility of signing the Berlin Memorandum nor of proposing any other basis of European concert. The Manchester men, as usual, declared we were islanders, and that our business was to spin our cotton and keep our shops. Mr Gladstone, great heroic statesman as he is, stood alone! We see now that if his advice had been followed Russian anxiety for the liberty of the Slav would have been relieved; the nationalities in the east of Europe would have, under the magic touch of British influence, sprung into vigorous life; Russian schemes would have been utterly thwarted; and Turkish Pachas for ever rendered powerless. Not a drop of blood would have been shed, and England would have earned the gratitude of the world. Mr Gladstone’s advice was not followed. The Tories saw their chance. They appealed to the bastard patriotism of the county, they paraded Imperialism, and pandered to Jingoism. Again and again has this section of the Liberal party flung the affairs of the county into the hands of the Tories. Sir, I want a Liberal foreign policy worthy of Oliver Cromwell. I wish Mr Gladstone, with his just pride in the moral and material greatness of England, to sway its power. He inherits from Sir Robert Peel the great tradition that the first consideration for a British statesman is not what are the rights of England—this is the cry of the Tory party; no, nor what are the rights of England—this is the cry of the Tory party; no, nor what are the interests of England—this is the constant cry of the Manchester school. Mr Gladstone’s policy is grander than all this. His first question is not what are the rights nor what are the interests. He asks, first of all, chief of all, what are the duties of England? Continue reading “‘The Liverpool and Southwark Elections’ by A Christian Democrat (21 February, 1880)”

‘Home Rule and the Land Laws’ by A Christian Democrat (31 January, 1880)

The following is an editorial that appeared in the ‘People’s Journal’ under the name ‘A Christian Democrat’. The issue of Home Rule for Ireland was key ahead of the 1880 general election. Charles Stewart Parnell had just assumed leadership of the Home Rule League which would consolidate its dominant position in Ireland that year at the polls. I believe this editorial demonstrates that the issue was a confusing one for Scottish Liberals at this relatively early stage in the movement. A tentative support for the Irish right to self-governance was tempered by an axiomatic belief that a united ‘British’ state was a force for good domestically and internationally. This can be clearly seen in the overt ‘British’ exceptionalism of the final paragraph.

To the Editor of the People’s Journal.

Sir,—In this letter I propose to discuss what we ought to do for Ireland, and what we ought not to do. First of all, we ought not to do anything to raise false hopes nor awaken false fears. The integrity of Britain must remain, property in Ireland must be protected, and order must be preserved. We must do nothing to cause capital to leave Ireland nor to awaken hopes doomed to bitter disappointment. All this being clearly understood, I do think we should hear what Irishmen really wish to be done. Mr Gladstone, it is true, has done more for Ireland than all the statesmen who ever loved her. I am constantly feeling anger rising in my heart towards Irishmen when I see their want of gratitude to the truest, greatest friend they ever had. But sir, when I remember the cruel wrongs of Ireland, the generations who have suffered grossest injustice, I check this rising anger and feel that if I were an Irishman as I am a Scotchman I should probably retain too keen a sense of the past to be as grateful as I ought to e to even Mr Gladstone. It is because we forget the past, which is more than most Irishmen can do, that we are so impatient of Irish unrest and dissatisfaction. Sir, let us try to shut our ears to all foolish clamour. Neither intimidated by threats, nor careful to gain temporary popularity, let us look at the Irish questions fairly in the face, and while clearly stating what cannot be conceded to any clamour, let us see what can be fairly and justly done. Sir, I appeal to Scotchmen. We know what English oppression means. Scotland felt it over and again, and we can sympathise with Irishmen. I rejoice to know that a noble and gallant young Scotchman is likely to represent Liverpool [Referring to John Ramsay, the future 13th Earl of Dalhousie, then styled Lord Ramsay]. Irishmen, if they were wise, would vote for him to a man, and ask no questions.

The first thing I would give to Irishmen is a fair hearing. Even Mr Bright, generous as he is, and just as he ever wishes to be, is not an Irishman. I wish to hear Irishmen state their own case. What do they mean by “Home Rule?” Do not let us be frightened by a bogey. I wish to approach this fearful thing, to hear it speak, and to know what it has to say for itself.

We in Scotland are about to raise a loud clamour for “Home Rule.” We wish the counties put under “Home Rule;” we wish the liquor traffic put under “Home Rule;” we wish more “Home Rule” at our Parochial Boards, and less dictation by a central government. Our educational and borough affairs are already under “Home Rule.” Let us quietly hear what Ireland really does mean by “Home Rule” before we refuse it.

Students of history know that when Ireland had a Parliament of her own it was neither a blessing nor an honour to her. But, sir, we are not all students of history. The people who are about to elect a new Parliament need to be informed. The knowledge may exist in the brains of students or in dusty blue-books. I wish living Irishmen to state what they know, and what they propose, for the information of the present electors. If the Parliament of Ireland was a curse and not a blessing, this is a most important fact, which an honest inquiry would make plain to Irishmen themselves, and is a strong argument in favour of inquiry. Let us hear Irishmen state their own case in their own way. What are the real wishes, their genuine aspirations? What do they, “in the heart of them,” as Carlyle would say, mean by “Home Rule?” Then, sir, I do earnestly wish to know what Mr Parnell wants. Is there a real injustice yet left in the Land Laws in Ireland? I fear there must be, else he would be powerless. What is wrong? What is wanting? In what is Mr Gladstone’s great measure defective? Continue reading “‘Home Rule and the Land Laws’ by A Christian Democrat (31 January, 1880)”