‘The Liverpool Election’ by A Christian Democrat (14 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 reaction to John (Lord) Ramsay, 13th Earl of Dalhousie’s loss in the Liverpool by-election. An important marker in the lead up to the 1880 general election, this loss to the Conservatives was a time to reflect on how the Liberal message and election strategy should be refined. Ramsay would become the third MP for Liverpool in the general election. As an aside, reading this it is worth considering just how far Scottish liberals were enthralled by aristocracy. Lord Ramsay seems to represent a convergence of this deference to nobility and patriotic desire for Scots to thrive in England.

Sir,—We must learn wisdom from the loss of this test election. I wish our leaders not to underrate the nature of our defeat; it is serious, and likely to do much harm to the Liberal cause. For one thing, it fixes this Government in office for a whole long year. Had Lord Ramsay won, the Liberals might justly have forced the Government to appeal to the county. No better candidate could have been chosen. Lord Ramsay is a sailor, a man of real capacity, understands politics from person study, is a keen Liberal from genuine conviction, and speaks with the eloquence in which sincere, clear, and earnest principle ever finds expression. If with such a candidate we have lost this great battle, with whom shall we ever gain? I trace our defeat to three causes, and if I am right the sooner all Liberals attend to the them the better.

First, Lord Ramsay seemed to concede to the Irishmen something which he at first refused. It was one thing to take up a clear, just, firm position from the first, quite another thing to seem to give way to catch the Home Rule vote. I think every Liberal candidate should insist on a full inquiry into the whole subject of government in Ireland. Statesmen may be well informed, but the new electorate is very ill informed in reference to Ireland. What were the Brehon Laws? What was the state of Ireland beyond the Pale? How did Irishmen govern themselves? Was Spencer right in his policy and in his reasons for refusing leases? Do our present electors know the exhaustive and invaluable report of Sir William Petty, the first real disclosure of the true condition of the land question? Have the men who must decide upon a policy which will affect the happiness of millions ever studied the careful and statesmanlike account of land tenure by Arthur Young? I am quite sure that even many candidates for Parliament have not read the report of the Devon Commission, nor the sagacious letters of our own James Caird. I fear, sir, we forget that in Ireland the great majority of the people depend entirely on farming; that the vast majority of farms are under fifty acres; that almost all the buildings, all the drains, and indeed everything has been done by the tenants, and that these tenants are all liable to removal at one year’s notice. The money now lent by Sir Stafford Northcote will, I fear, create great heart-burnings. The farmers will wish to have the spending of this money. They will think it should be lent to them, so as to increase their hold on the land. The proprietors may spend it, and raise the rents, and give no more security to the tenant. I have only named these authorities on the land question. As a Liberal desiring to be just I could not give an intelligent vote on Irish questions till we have a new inquiry. I do not believe in doles of charity. Let us reach the causes of the poverty and cure the disease. The Irish education question, too, and indeed a whole hose of Irish questions, press for solution. Do Scotchmen know what the penal laws in Ireland were? Sir, when I see the people of Ireland in their ignorance and poverty my heart burns with indignation at the wicked laws we made to prevent them from being educated. Do Scotchmen know that we deliberately killed the Irish woollen trade, and forced the Irish people to abandon commerce and trust to the potato? I wish to know what Irishmen who understand their own county want. I wish to know what they mean by Home Rule, and I would have every Liberal to announce his desire—nay, his determination—to have a full, exhaustive inquiry, not to gain the few votes of the Irish, but because intelligent legislation is impossible till we are full informed as to what we are legislating about. I do not believe what the Irish vote is of the least value to any candidate. There are even in Liverpool more English dock labourers and voters of the residuum than there are Irish voters. To a man these will vote against any one who speaks a kind word for the Irish. These men hate the Irish, who come over in thousands and compete with them in the labour market. Lord Ramsay’s apparent concession was ill-timed and cost him dear. Let future Liberal candidates he warned, let them go for a full inquiry into the whole question of Irish Government at the very first, because this is just a wise course in itself, and let Irishmen appeal to our sense of justice, and, if they are wise, never threaten a candidate; for the moment a concession seems to be made to gain their votes, far more is lost than their numbers can make up. Continue reading “‘The Liverpool Election’ by A Christian Democrat (14 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)”